P.S it's you as a chicken

musings, notes, punk rock.

Dissecting a masterpiece; Or, why Web in Front is one of my favourite songs ever written

This is a piece I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but due to university and work and life and such, I haven’t had the time. That won’t be problem soon I guess.

Every now and then, sometimes from the unlikeliest of sources, a song comes along and hits you. It could be new or old, a style or band you’ve been aware of for years, or something completely from the blue. The point is, every music fan has these little moments where a band or an album or just a song intoxicates you just so. About a year ago, for the first time in a while, this happened to me (it’s happened again since when I discovered the entire Unwound discography) when I heard ‘Web in Front’ by Archers of Loaf. Prior to this, AoF were a band I’ve always been aware of, mostly because of Give Up the Ghost’s wonderful cover of ‘You and Me’ on their Love American E.P. That cover had always ranked pretty highly for me, and I’d perhaps even hasten to say that I preferred it to the original, because Wesley Eisold does such a fantastic dramatic and endearing turn on it, seemingly totally out of his and the band’s comfort zone, that it really worked as a cover. In comparison, the original isn’t that different, but as it was all I knew of Eric Bachmann at that time, this is how I painted the band generally for a long time (after some half-assed attempted at the band’s long-standing myspace page). 

Then this song came along, and as my girlfriend, band-mates and surely many others will know, it intoxicated me. I just couldn’t get over, almost instantaneously how deeply the song effected me, and its not even a particularly obvious or OTT song; but that’s exactly why I’m so obsessed with it.

Let’s start with the intro. At first, Mark Price’s five (why five? this song is already intriguing, why not four? the song isn’t in 5/4 after all! - Also, have you noticed the 3rd snare hit is decidedly quieter than the rest? of Lo-fi how we miss you) memorable snare hits, its verges into country-and-western territory, something the Chapel Hill, North Carolina band play with occasionally anyway. It’s also, bizarrely, reminiscent of the beginning of Robert Palmer’s 'Addicted to Love' (which you may disagree with, but has always floated around in my mind) which almost sets the song off on completely the wrong foot. Then there’s the opening line:

Stuck a pin in your backbone, spoke it down from there. All I ever wanted was to be your spine.

hilariously and often misquoted as “stuck a peanut” (as discussed in this recent interview with Bachmann about the song at the A.V Club) but is actually, in the aforementioned interview, a Spinal Tap reference. But its more than that, which I think even if Bachmann is older and coy about his work now, knows, within the opening two lines we have an already quite touching allusion to relationships, and the desire for stability and love. To be someone’s spine, in this instance at least, appears to simply mean supporting and loving someone, potentially even if the feeling isn’t reciprocated.  

And after that, we’re off. Another line: 

Lost your friction and you slid for a mile. Overdone, overdrive, overlive, override.

suggesting that apart, there is no stability between these two people, even if it is guarded in a humorous image, and then the whole band joins in. What’s staggering about ‘Web in Front’ is how devastatingly simple it is. Or at least, appears. It is for the most part, three major chords (A, F# & D) with a minimal variation throughout. But it works because it is only just over two minutes long, and the amount packed into those two minutes, the pace that we slide at caught in this slipstream of a song, is overawing. After nearly 20 seconds of just vocals, drums and a single guitar, we’re already into the bridge section, announced by another snare and cymbal hit (and entrance of bass and 2nd guitar), and another melody:

you’re not the one who let me down, but thanks for offering. It’s not a voice and I’m not around, but thanks for picking it…

what makes these words so special, aside from the breathlessness of the accompanying music, is the way Bachmann infers meaning through stressing certain words (italicized), through his then youthful, unconvinced yet hopeful voice. It’s an incredible performance (though this suggests artificiality, which I wouldn’t dream of accusing) and suits the song perfectly to really hit home the emotional weight that is bubbling under this song. In said interview, Bachmann said it was the first song he took a really long time to write “months even… which I don’t understand because its not even that great”. You can perhaps understand why the man is tired of thinking and talking about just this one song, but this is one of those pieces of art that left its creator the moment it had such an impact (being played in-between shows on the original MTV2). More helpfully, Bachmann also describes how he picked out certain words, sometimes literally from a dictionary, which had certain emotional weight behind them (such as the spine imagery or “rust sampled from your faucet”) and these make up the composite image of a relationship struggle. 

On the face of it, particularly when watching the song’s goofy and aged video, ‘Web in Front’ is a relatively upbeat song, akin to fellow “College Rock” (by then superstars) Pavement whom this song is almost close enough onto the point of plagiarism (though this does appear to be a coincidence) but decoding the lyrics and Bachmann’s voice unveils a desperately unhappy song, one where relationships are on the brink of dissolution (though not completely irretrievable) and there is a feeling of dread for the future. The lead guitar on this line for instance:

and there’s a chaaance that things could get weird, year that’s a possibility. Although I didn’t do anything, no I didn’t do anything.

sounds totally unreal. Almost synthesised or like a harp rather than the highly reverbed guitar line which haunts these words. As much as I enjoy solo versions of the song (by Bachmann or say, Jesse Lacey) this is something which desperately missed without the lead guitar in this song, as it just adds to this eerie, echoed atmosphere that floats about this fairly conventional pop-rock song.

After this line, all the wonderful melodies that slide in and out of the song, each with their own emotional standings, come together in a brief (everything is brief, a glimpse in this song) moving to the song’s final, fantastic dénouement. 

Web in Front is an absolute triumph of accomplished song-writing. The band create so much with so little that it becomes both instantly identifiable and enjoyable, while simultaneously allowing for repeated (and trust me, it was repeated a lot) listenings. A typecast by-product of the music industry’s highly cynical attempts to find the next Nirvana on the fact of it, this song runs deep, and unfortunately (only because its the first song off their début album) would never be bettered by the band (though they have a few which come extremely close). But the song for me represents what is best about that small glimpse in the early-to-mid 90’s where, however cynically, the freaks and geeks were allowed their moment to control the airwaves, and the amount of impeccable bands who emerged (or at least, got the exposure they deserved) in this short aperture was incredible.

This week, I will be compiling my favourite 90’s songs, which this will be very much headlining, but will also show the amazing position the indie-punk-guitar scene was at this time.

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