“Raleigh Days,” which Merge Records posted to Spotify and YouTube this morning, is the iconic Chapel Hill indie-rock band Archers of Loaf’s first new song in more than 20 years

But only the lyrics let on that any time has passed. Singer Eric Bachmann still sounds like he might headbutt you. Guitarist Eric Johnson still seems one reckless string bend away from pitching headlong off the stage. Not only is this every inch the careening, scorch-marked Archers of yore, it’s pitched at a nostalgic frequency that only longtime Triangle locals will hear.

Archers is one of the bands that made the Chapel Hill indie-rock sound a national craze in the 1990s, in the last salad days of print media both high-toned and Xeroxed, before the internet changed everything. (Believe it or not, “Chapel Hill” was once a working music-crit adjective; I was always tickled by the Omaha band Cursive’s 2001 meta-media parody “Sink to the Beat,” when Tim Kasher sings, “They’ve got a D.C. sound, Shudder to Think, Fugazi / And Chapel Hill around the early ‘90s.” He means Archers, Superchunk, and Polvo.)

So it seems almost perverse that Archers, after a decade of reunion shows dedicated to their ‘90s Chapel Hill classics, would return with a song about … Raleigh.

Let’s be clear: Archers isn’t much of a band for lyrical exegesis. Fans have spent decades mumbling through broad swaths of indecipherable words that often make even less sense when you look them up, and that rough-hewn surrealism continues here—until you get to the shout-along chorus.

“Raleigh days, from the Fallout Shelter stage, heard you scream you’re gonna be somebody someday,” Bachmann blortles. You probably need to have lived here for decades to know that “Fallout Shelter” should be capitalized because it’s a venue, not a rhetorical flourish, and that it’s the emotional key to a song about moving forward by looking back.

Are they somebody, now that it’s someday?

Where Flex Nightclub now stands, at 2 South West Street in Raleigh, there once was a place called the Fallout Shelter where all the young rock bands played as the punk shows of the ’80s gave way to the national-A&R-scout feasts of the ’90s.

In that last flash of record-label excess, David Menconi remembers the Fallout Shelter as the site of an “insane” bidding war over local band Motorola. In an interview with me, Superchunk and Merge’s Mac McCaughan ranked the Fallout Shelter and the Brewery, another great Raleigh rock venue, alongside the Cradle in importance at the time.

If Archers of Loaf’s invocation of the little-documented venue is an Easter egg for locals, it’s also a reminder that the legend of Chapel Hill was largely a concoction of the media, and that Raleigh and Durham bands and clubs (anyone remember Under the Street?) played a major role in college rock and indie rock’s creation myth.

Though Archers’ chorus might be directed at any band they saw striving at the Fallout Shelter, it might also be directed at themselves, 30 years ago, when they stood on that stage, about to be swept up in the post-Nirvana indie-band feeding frenzy. (Archers was aggressively courted by major labels but were stuck in a contract with the indie Alias; it wasn’t a great match.)

Are they somebody, now that it’s someday? Archers of Loaf made all of their music in less than 10 years and then nursed a fan base on it for 20 more. Their Cradle show on Friday sold out right away (we’ll be there and will report back), just on the strength of that old music and the promise of a new album to finally come. It might not be the career they’d have imagined then, but it’s a legacy, and with “Raleigh Days,” it appears primed for a vital second act after a long intermission, as they lean into a long national tour.

(By the way, “blortle” is a word I made up specifically to describe Bachmann’s singing. It’s something between a blurt and a chortle.)

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Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at bhowe@indyweek.com. 

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