Disclaimer: I know Scott Archer from high school and over the years he has sent me clips and recordings, asking for advice and critiques for his various music projects. As a thank-you for giving him advice over the years, he added my name to the album credits.
Though Rocketbot is defunct, its legacy continues on as Arlum Village. Described as a musical collective with roots in Indianapolis and Chicago, front-man Scott Archer has teamed up with ex-members of Rocketbot and current members of Indianapolis-based alternative rock band, Great Future to record a new EP, The Ballad of Paka. A conceptual recording alluding to the early and “wild west” days of the World Wide Web, the EP follows a man named Paka who battles wolves and his own mortality.
The Ballad of Paka starts with a strong clapping rhythm and distant and echoey harmonies sung by Archer. A nice mix between a glockenspiel and an Omni chord can be heard before delightful electronic and synth rhythms enter with marching-like qualities. The lyrics are somber, and Archer sings about Paka, who describes a violent death by wolves. Archer’s lyrics are clever and whimsical and follow a smart rhyming scheme. “They are the wolves, but I am a man. They have their fangs but I have my hands,” sings Archer. The marching-like rhythm adds heavy and introspective emotions to the scenery of something that would normally be quite unpleasant, like fighting off violent wolves.
A smooth transition is made using a bright and playful electronic melody that clearly returns to the roots and influences of Archer’s old band, Rocketbot. Distorted guitars provide a fluid harmony as the electronic melody and a hearty bass rhythm drive the momentum of the song. Even with that momentum however, Archer’s lyrics continue to take a more somber tone and continues to make violent allusions. In a way, it makes it odd for the theme and tone that “Young Pup” has taken, though Archer’s lyrics also reflect a positive outlook. “The gods’ll make me whole again, please take me back. I wanna go back, to where I’ve been,” sings Archer. What’s interesting about that line is while the violent imagery would imply a sort of disruption to the natural cycle of life, the assurance of becoming “whole again” seems to resolve the disruptive setting, bringing a surprising amount of solace as “Young Pup” concludes.
The instrumentation here is perhaps some of the best on the entire EP. Light and delicate piano melodies are accompanied with the low-key but meaningful percussion of Gary Koers. Again, the lyrics become more somber, as Archer sings, “I can feel my bones aching, but I can’t stay awake”. These lyrics work well with a very beautiful electronic melody that enhances the mood of the song. Slow but heavier percussion emerges as harmonious and impassioned vocals sing atop the electronic melody and cello provided by Brett Byron. The percussion and cello persist, very reminiscent of the instrumentation of Brent Knopf from his days in Menomena, particularly from their album Friend and Foe. Even when Archer sings, “Oh this can’t be real,” not only does he obviously take influence from Brian Scott from their days in Rocketbot, but there is also very noticeable and admirable influence from Knopf in terms of vocal delivery.
Under the Snow
The sentiment is very sweet and heartwarming, accompanied with clean guitar and glockenspiel melodies. The song appropriately signals the end of the EP, as Archer sings, “I’m going home, under the snow. If it’s time to say goodbye, then goodbye.” An electronic and synth harmony almost electrifies the air which really contributes to the emotion of the song as Archer sings, “I am not a perfect man.” The high harmonious vocals provided by Carmen Oneida are especially bittersweet, which adds complexity and sincerity to the song. Archer concludes the song and EP by simply singing, “I am not afraid to die”, paying tribute to The Unicorns’ final album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
With the success and influence that Scott Archer forged with Rocketbot, it should be no surprise that The Ballad of Paka would continue to exert that kind of influence and creativity within the music scenes of Chicago and Indianapolis. Archer has employed a very talented ensemble of individuals to record this EP and tell this story, and future stories ought to be highly anticipated.
Check out Arlum Village SoundCloud.