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The Ministry of Archers
Artist: Joy Electric
Label: Tooth and Nail
Length: 10 tracks, 32:06
Joy Electric’s newest creation introduces us to the Moog Dynasty of recordings; fuller tones and massive bass lines have replaced most of the multitude of minute electronic notes of Ronnie Martin’s three previous recordings.  The darkness of last year’s Hello, Mannequin still lingers, but Archer is more fire and brimstone than it is melancholic loneliness, with branching lyrical themes centered about a prey-and-predator motif, and some of Joy Electric’s most menacing and creepiest songs to date.  If past Joy Electric recordings made some writers think of the happy, 8-bit Mushroom Kingdom of the Mario games of yore, Archer should bring to mind Bowser’s evil castle.

Martin’s songwriting is usually full of smart hooks and catchy melodies, but Archers downplays that more familiar poppy aesthetic.  There’s an utter strangeness to the entirety of the record that results less from the sounds as much from the pop songwriting itself.  It bears some resemblances to pieces of past Joy Electric recordings- perhaps the heavy bass and punk-influenced songs of chapter two of The White Songbook, or the less hook-filled, more darkly, whimsical material from We Are the Music Makers, or even possible influences remaining from the meandering melodic whispers and whirls of The Tick Tock Companion  This could be one of Joy Electric’s most left field works, which is saying quite a bit considering how far left the artist is already.  

Archers feels like it lacks a true center, or a solid ground for the listener to firmly plant themselves upon, and as such, there’s a good chance that a lot of this material will simply fly right over your head.  But if some patience is given and if you can go into this listen with a little bit of an adventurous spirit,  it’s quite satisfying how much of Archers hits dead center after the record is given time to digest.   The title-track is incredible, with bass notes that drop like warheads and a spidery, thrilling chorus line.  “A Hatchet, A Hatchet” burns with an urgent fervor in the verses, until it falls into a silken chorus and bridge reminiscent of the JE classic “The North Sea.”  There are three instrumentals on the record, and all of them fit perfectly, providing some of the record’s most beautiful and chilling sounds.  They’re a major step up in consistency compared to many of Joy Electric’s past instrumentals, which sometimes bordered on frustrating pointlessness.  

The archer alluded to in the lyrical themes could either be the lost and lifeless individual sung about throughout the recording, or it could be Satan himself- “you among the league of militants/ how little you have learned/ tried but failed to be one of the innocents/ little left of yourself/ oh no, the most terrible archer…”  The point of Archers seems to be a cry for escape--to find refuge and safety from the prowling, devouring lion, and to be careful not to become one ourselves.

Archers is a very short record, and I think it needed to be; the menace and strangeness of the majority of the material may have proved smothering in larger quantities.  As it is, Archers might be accepted as more of a transitional record by fans, a move to a different electronic sound that didn’t see complete fruition in Archers.  But, as is always the case with Joy Electric’s yearly releases, Archers is one of the most unique pop recordings of the year, and is continually worth marveling at over how such a unique artist could successfully develop his sound in the too often staunching Christian music industry.
Jonathan Avants 8/29/05



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