by Amber Valentine
I was exposed to rock and roll at a young age. I knew the words to Tom Petty and The Heartbreaker’s “Refugee” when I was well under the age of five and one of the saddest days of my youth was when my dad told me that, during moving from Missouri to Michigan, we’d somehow lost our copy of Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits. The first cd I ever bought was Abbey Road at eight. I saved up my three-dollars-per-week allowance until I had enough scratch to get my own copy of The Beatles’ legendary disc and, sure, my parents had multiple copies (Vinyl, tape, probably 8-track as well) but how cool was it to have my own?
Since then, I’ve expanded my horizons and all but left rock behind in the process. Yeah, I’ve still got the Traveling Wilburies in my iTunes library but I’m sad to say that these days, Jenny Lewis’s cover of “Handle With Care” gets more play than it’s original predecessor. Perhaps that’s why I’ve taken such a shine to Chicago foursome Archie Powell & the Exports. I came across the band shortly after both myself and Powell had moved to the city and was, at the time, going through a huge David Bazan phase. The band, it ends up, had just released a free five song EP on their bandcamp and who am I to refuse free music? Immediately, I was reminded of the bands that got me into music in the first place (Petty, Westerberg) but with a twist of the modern bands that Powell and I both cut our teeth on in high school (The Strokes, Weezer) and that mix kept the band’s sound from being a stale rehash of The Replacements’ Let It Be.
Even after the hearty reception the band’s EP received in my household of one, I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive to hear the band’s debut. Why? Well, because while every song on the band’s Loose Change EP was catchy bits of audible bliss with lyrics that, to a girl who had just moved to the exact city Powell talked about in “Moving To The City”, struck a major chord, I couldn’t help but feel that ten plus songs like that had overwhelming odds of growing stale.
This, however, was not the first time I’ve been wrong.
Skip Work is Archie Powell & the Exports to the extreme. These kids are ready to make a splash and they are not playing around. This isn’t kid’s stuff. This is a band that’s all in, diversifying their sound on more than a few tracks and releasing an album that includes not only the catchy bits of Loose Change, but also some songs that are shockingly different for the Exports.
The albums starts out with “Milkman Blues”, a minute and a half long tune that gives you the impression you’ve just popped in a much folkier CD than you actually have. When the song abruptly stops, only to punch your eardrums with the opening notes of lead single “Enough About Me”, it’s as evident to fans of Powell from his debut release as it is new recruits that this band is worth your time, more now than ever. Stand out track “Fightning Words” is a perfect example of this. Admittedly, being used to Powell and company’s straight up rock sound from the previous year’s EP, I hated “Fightning Words” at first. The verses are a spitfire assault of megaphone shouted lyrics while the chorus is signature Powell, megaphone tossed aside. The abrupt juxtaposition of the two versions of Powell present felt jarring, to say the very least but within days, the song had not only grown on me, but quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album, a song that when I tell people “You need to hear this band!”, ends up being the track I tell them to “wait for” because “this is worth hearing.”
Of course, this isn’t to say it’s all about Powell. Sure, he’s a hell of a front man but without the Exports, his talent wouldn’t shine half as much as it does. You see, Archie Powell & the Exports are sort of like the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Alone, they have spandex and mad ninja skills but together, they can transform into Megazord and that’s when you know some ass is about to get kicked. This, of course, is the proverbial ass of your eardrums, not the ass of Rita Repulsa, but regardless, ass? The Exports are kickin’ it. I never understood when people described a tune as a “bassist’s song” until I heart Okkervil River’s “Lost Coastlines” and goodness, am I ever glad that Okkervil River’s Patrick Pestorius came into my life because without him, I don’t think I’d truly understand the value of Adam Export (Yes, that’s totally his real last name) in Archie Powell & the Exports. Adam’s passion for his craft is showcased song after song and when the Exports bust out their rock numbers, Adam is just as prevalent of an asset to the band as is Powell himself.
I feel as if one of the biggest reasons the Exports shine so thoroughly, however, is keyboardist Ryan Export (Where the heck did Powell find all these kids with the last name Export?!), who adds an alt-country flair to Skip Work‘s best tune, swoon-worthy album closer “The Darndest Things”. Elsewhere, Ryan adds an appealing spice where a lesser band would have just put a lackluster guitar solo. To say the Exports function as a musically cohesive unit is completely accurate and even less memorable tracks like “All Tuckered Out” and “Follow Through” are incredibly solid songs.
Lyrically, Powell specializes in words that are equal parts sincere and snotty, singing earnestly about the pains of shouldering day to day responsibilities at a factory job where he “doesn’t want to have to fake it anymore” (“Piggy Bank Blues”, “All Tuckered Out”) before launching into a rockin’ tongue-in-cheek number about the shortcomings of his old friend Mattson who, yes, is a real guy that apparently skips out on chill sessions with Powell to watch reruns of the O.C.
Powell, as well as all the Exports (which, in addition to Adam and Ryan, include RJ, a recent acquisition that did not appear on Skip Work.) don’t only command your attention but they deserve it. They wear their love of rock on their sleeve and their type of rock is the rock that just doesn’t relay exist anymore, having been replaced in “hipster” culture with synth beats and music laden with irony and kitsch. Sure, Powell might be a snot on occasion but he’s never insincere and if there’s any justice in the world of rock and roll, Archie Powell & the Exports will be big time in no time.