Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
"Guess I left the world behind," Eric Earley sings on the sixth Blitzen Trapper record. No doubt: The Portlandians play Nineties Americana rock like Wilco if they'd never upended the genre on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It's a simplistic but intoxicating roots fantasy - full of Dylan mysticism, spidery acoustic Dead jamming, tasty 1970s rock moves and evocations of high-plains drifters with itchy trigger fingers drinking from jam jars.
After nearly a decade of flirtation, Blitzen Trapper finally took the plunge and dove headfirst into the lake in crafting American Goldwing, a straight-up, mid-'70s inspired Southern rock album that fuses the Saturday night swagger of Lynyrd Skynyrd with the stoic peasantry of the Band. Similar in sound and feel to fellow Pacific Northwesterners the Decemberists’ King Is Dead, but sporting a darker patina of authenticity (which is odd, considering neither group has roots in the deep south), American Goldwing comes out of the gate howling with “Might Find It Cheap,” a taut and infectious, summer boot-stomper that sounds tailor-made to buckle the speakers in a second generation Pontiac Firebird. What follows is a lovingly balanced set of rural rockers (“Street Fighting Sun”) and dirt road ballads (“Girl in a Coat”) that sound about as far from the murky introspection of 2010’s Destroyer of the Void as one would expect from a band that continuously tries to reinvent themselves within their own psych-folk/alt-country/indie rock universe, and almost always succeeds.
Last year, some speculated that the sixth album by Portland’s Blitzen Trapper might see the band enter some kind of cosmic-progressive phase. The logic, such as it was, went that their Queen-inspired miniature rock opera “Destroyer of the Void” was indicative of the group’s future plans, where the last album’s other songs were not. However, borrowing from a host of ‘70s influences is just what Blitzen Trapper does.
Sometimes I feel like a descriptor as worn as “Bob Dylan-like” can get sapped of its prodigious qualities and left sounding almost like an insult. Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley has been nursing that tag for the better part of a decade now, and for fairly obvious reasons: his foggy croak, reclusive interviews, and winding, sometimes diverging sense of storytelling have put him in close company with Mr. Zimmerman—but in the best ways possible.
Here's the question: How much can you fault a band for doing what they're best at? That's the main quandary that's bound to come up when you hear Blitzen Trapper's new album, American Goldwing. The Portland group, whose early records were adventurous and surprisingly twisted Americana-pop records, have been straightening out their sound for the past few years. 2008's Furr focused mostly on Dylan-esque country-rock (even if it had its nice tangents) and since then that sound is where the band has bedded down.
Ever since their self-titled debut, Blitzen Trapper’s mixing of glam, psychedelia and hard rocking riffs with the conventional folk and Americana genres has placed them as one the most refreshing acts of the last decade, surprising critics album after album. The freedom gained by self-releasing their first three LPs (Blitzen Trapper, Field Rexx and Wild Mountain Nation) provided a massive contribution to their creative minds. Any worries about label pressure from their subsequent signing with Sub Pop would soon be quelled by the fantastic follow ups Furr and Destroyer of the Void.
I could be wrong, but Eric Earley seems to be a pop-songwriting machine programmed to serve us sugarcoated alt-country on an annual basis. In recent years, he’s seemed like the kind of guy who rolls out of bed with 10 songs in his head, sits down and writes 15, throws three away, and records a whole album’s worth of material that same night. The dude writes catchy, eclectic indie folk-rock, and lots of it.
Blitzen Trapper's sixth album is named for a touring motorcycle meant for long hauls down endless highways, not short joy rides or joyless commutes. The Portland band means to create music that evokes the wind blowing your hair back, the miles falling away behind you, and quite possibly bugs getting stuck in your teeth. Frontman Eric Earley has explained that the album was inspired by the "inescapable past" and the eternal call of the open road-- the latter a specifically American idea that is almost necessarily soundtracked with American music.
Review Summary: Oh hey, another Blitzen Trapper album. Oh heyyyyy.At this point it seems impossible to actually write a criticism of Blitzen Trapper. Now four albums into their career and they continue to turn out the same rootsy Americana rock that mines the tradition of the American music scene--incorporating everyone from the Allman Brothers to The Grateful Dead to Bob Dylan.
BLITZEN TRAPPER play Sonic Boom and the Opera House on October 30. See listing. Rating: NN Some time after their breakout 2007 album, Wild Mountain Nation, caught the attention of venerable indie label Sub Pop, Blitzen Trapper seem to have lost their ambition. They've always displayed a reverence for the 70s Americana of classic rock radio, but that used to be tempered by touches of prog, noise and slacker folk.
Blitzen Trapper's last album, Destroyer Of The Void, was the critics' crush of 2010. This swift follow-up shrugs off many of its juicier references – glam and psychedelia – and moves ever deeper into heartland Americana. The title, which refers to an overweight Honda motorcycle, is a dubious totem that joins whiskey, FM radio, small towns and harmonicas in this loving update of some very familiar terrain, where West Coast rock meets Southern roll.
This Portland, Oregon, band's sixth album aims to evoke a "true American nostalgia", which entails fusing lyrics about good old boys and high school dances with lashings of Lynyrd Skynrd, 1970s vintage Tom Petty, banjos, harmonicas and the occasional yee-haw. However, where earlier albums took old-fashioned influences and remoulded them into something fresh, most of the songs here are mere rehashes. American Goldwing isn't bad, and the vintage Americana feel is painstakingly achieved, but it's hard to get excited about comfy, chugging rock we've all heard – and better – many times before.
"I left my home and all my money." So sings Eric Early on the title track of Blitzen Trapper's American Goldwing. While that might not pertain in a literal sense – Early still lives in Portland, Ore. – metaphorically it's a bull's-eye. Well, maybe not the money part, but the band has stepped out of place and time.
Blitzen TrapperAmerican Goldwing(Sub Pop)Rating: Over the last ten years, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper have asserted their place among a growing contingency of bands offering proof that country music is still cool. Oregon’s distance from Nashville can’t but help the cause, but Blitzen Trapper’s strength is found with their ability to appropriate and fuse traditional styles and instrumentation with modern sound and sensibilities. The resulting combination still feels rock & roll, but the country seeps in like molasses between those crunchy guitar riffs and gives Blitzen Trapper the nuanced twang that has become their signature sound.
You know how the music of classical composer Aaron Copland is indelibly linked to panoramic imagery of American life in the 20th century? I can’t help but sense a similar sort of jingoist pride when I listen to Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not setting out to argue that songs like “Wild Mountain Nation” or “Sleepytime in the Western World” are deserving of the same legacy afforded to Fanfare for the Common Man, but there’s little denying that a pioneering sense of wanderlust is pervasive in the work of both parties. 21 years after his death, Copland’s lush orchestrations and sprawling harmonies continue to evoke the gumption and playful spirit of the American people.
Sam Yahel During the final stretch of “From Sun to Sun” (Origin), his adept, engaging new album, the keyboardist Sam Yahel offers a glimpse of what might have been. Downhill-skiing through a pair of songbook standards — “So in Love” and “Taking a Chance on Love,” linked by an interlude with a classical tinge — he plays crisply over fast-swinging rhythm, the picture of mainstream post-bop piano excellence. Which is disconcerting only in context.