Erie Choir: Starlight Veins
[Potluck Foundation; April 24]
Indie rock abhors a vacuum. So when Archers of Loaf broke up in 1998, a substitute had already formed to fill the gap for hooky, raw-edged, weary anthems in the Chapel Hill scene, and for a good minute, it was my favorite local band.
Like Archers, Sorry About Dresden could turn a whimper into a roar—check out their great second album from 2001, whose wordy, hairsplitting title is so suggestive of its milieu you couldn’t make it up: The Convenience of Indecision (highlights: “On Contradiction,” “Deadship, Darkship”).
Like Archers, they were signed to a big-deal out-of-town label. One of their singer-guitarists even had the nerve to be named Eric, and like Archers’ Eric Bachmann, who turned to Americana as Crooked Fingers, Eric Roehrig would go folk as Erie Choir.
But there were big differences, too. Dresden had two singers to Archers’ one; the band also included James Hepler, later the drummer for I Was Totally Destroying It, and Matt Tomich, the highest-jumping bassist I’ve ever seen, as if he were built from a model-rocket kit.
They were more literary and prematurely middle-aged (the band name is a very OK-boomer WWII reference), more welcoming of acoustic guitars, and more adjacent to the querulous but folksy Midwestern emo of the late ‘90s. Not unrelatedly, that other singer, the late Matt Oberst, was Bright Eyes’ brother, and that big-deal label was Omaha’s Saddle Creek, where the emo-folk wunderkind was bred.
Erie Choir was “born of navel-gazing self-indulgence and vague ambition,” as Roehrig put it, with the wary sarcasm peculiar to vintage Chapel Hill indie rockers. The project began 20 years ago as a solo acoustic outlet for his well-turned songs and his cable-knit, doggedly melodic voice.
But by the time Erie Choir released a full-length LP in 2006, Roehrig was already drifting rock-ward again. When he eked out another LP, Old Rigs, a decade later, his solo acoustic project had become a full-blown rock band featuring Hepler, Bob Wall, and Jack Watson, who return on Erie Choir’s forthcoming EP, Starlight Veins.
But Roehrig hasn’t reverted to the days of Sorry About Dresden. He’s gone further back than that, leaning into unabashed classic-rock influences that SAD, like Archers, only cited with an ironic shrug.
Shades of folk and indie-rock alike are far in the rear-view on Starlight Veins, which was recorded with N.C. rock lifer Jerry Kee. The first song, “Other Guys,” turns an inside joke about covering The Flying Burrito Brothers into a cowbell-laden singalong with just enough feedback at the front and wooziness in the leads to keep “indie” and “bar” arm-wrestling to modify “rock.”
If the medium is nostalgic, it’s matched to the message. After a burly opening, the groovy “I Will” is music-scene sprechgesang in the The Hold Steady style, set in the Sunset Strip metal scene of the 1980s. “Night Junction” is about Sorry About Dresden’s touring adventures back in the day, but as related by a punked-up Springsteen. It’s feelgood music for pessimists, summer jams for introverts. And we are all introverts now.