So it’s come to this. Eric Bachmann, once one of the most beloved members of the indie-rock scene nationwide, has completed his gradual transition to what is essentially an adult-alternative sound.
Crooked Fingers was always a vehicle for Bachmann to display his more streamlined tendencies, to offset the quirks of Archers of Loaf. But the newly mainstream sound comes after Bachmann declared Wal-Mart to be the Great Satan. Crooked Fingers is making the physical version of Forfeit/Fortune available exclusively to 20 prime independent music stores (not that that’s elitist or anything). The cruel fate of Forfeit/Fortune is that the external social factors of this easily digestible, bland-sounding album mark an act of supposed independent defiance.
Some of Bachmann’s fans have been longing for him to enter Springsteen territory with Crooked Fingers. But he will never be as widely popular or beloved as the Boss, particularly when he releases an album as paradoxically alienating as Forfeit/Fortune. Featuring the kind of digital production values that make vinyl advocates lose sleep at night, Forfeit/Fortune has a slew of duds, particularly pronounced in opener “What Never Comes” and closer “Your Control.” This is the kind of music that killed Liz Phair’s career, but whereas Phair on a major label saw her cred tank faster than the Dow, said social factors will probably give Crooked Fingers a free pass.
The choice tracks, the tracks that redeem an otherwise eternally frustrating album are “Cannibals” and “Modern Dislocation.” It seems Bachmann is at his best when he sticks to singing about social dynamics instead of flimsy storytelling; these two tracks have considerable, enduring bravado and remind us why Bachmann was such a hero in his (admittedly small) circles 15 years ago. Around 1993, North Carolina and Kentucky became unlikely centers of eccentric, inspired indie rock. By now most of its founders have followed a musical trajectory similar to Bachmann’s. This raises the question: Have the ’90s indie-rock musicians turned to AM radio friendliness, or has AM radio absorbed ’90s indie rock? Which one of these trends would we prefer?