Release Date: Aug 25, 2009
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
If Portland's Blitzen Trapper haven't already cemented their status as Wilco's heir apparent, this thoroughly impressive EP should do the trick. The woodsy West Coast six-piece exhibits all the best qualities of Chicago's alt-country kings before Jeff Tweedy took his band down Jam Band Lane. [rssbreak] Blitzen's main songwriter, Eric Earley, keeps the tracks taut and the hooks precise, as on folk-pop nugget Silver Moon and Preacher's Sister's Boy (Black River's centrepiece).
This seven-track companion piece to Blitzen Trapper's superb 2008 release, Furr (all of the tracks have been available to fans since early 2008 in CD-R form at the band's shows), is built around that album's darkest moment, the murder ballad "Black River Killer. " While the six tracks that follow don't wallow in the same waters of failed redemption as the title track, they do cling to Furr's folksier moments, resulting in a solid addendum for those who prefer Blitzen Trapper's Bob Dylan meets the Grateful Dead fetish over their visceral, vaguely psychedelic Southern indie rock jams. Standout cuts like the breezy "Preacher's Sister's Boy," the Beatlesque "Going Down," and the straight-up Skynrd-tastic "Big Black Bird" offer further proof that the Pacific Northwest (home of the Fleet Foxes and M.
It may only weigh in at seven tracks - one of which has already been released elsewhere, the remainder previously offered only as merch table CDRs - and a little over a quarter of an hour long, but Portland-spawned Blitzen Trapper’s Black River Killer is easily substantial enough to be mildly confusing at times. Anyone who got into frontman Eric Earley’s endearingly askew take on college-inflected, Malkmus-meets-Dylan indie-folk at the outset (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation the band’s ‘debut’ proper, while acknowledging a brace of quietly self-released albums from some four years prior) will surely raise an eyebrow over certain chunks of this little oddity. Where once we might’ve expected - and, rightfully, delighted - to hear the familiar Blitzen calling cards of frazzled guitars and fractured vocals, there here appears to have been a distinct bit of buffing and tightening: Black River Killer is, for a couple of significant breaks during its brief run-time, a bewilderingly mature record by a band that used to look and sound like they’d recently been cast out of the hunting lodge for putting ‘shrooms in the sarsaparilla.
The Black River Killer EP is a mash-up record. Not that Portland indie-folk sextet Blitzen Trapper are straying into the DJ business. Rather, each song on the seven-track EP sounds like a direct combination of influences. Petty + Cash. Beatles + Dylan. Wilco + Radiohead. By transparently showcasing ….
On 2008's Furr, Blitzen Trapper focused its wild eclecticism, settling on a stylized take on '70s country rock. "Black River Killer" is the perfect example, with finger-picked guitar and murder-ballad lyrics (make that multiple-murder). Here, it's paired with six tunes that already graced a tour CD, recorded during the Furr sessions. .
“It was just a little while past the sunset strip. They found a girl’s body in an open pit,” narrates singer Eric Earley on Black River Killer, the leadoff song from the EP of the same name. That leading line introduces a murder ballad with characters that could be fugitives from a Neil Yong song, or even something by Charlie Daniels. Its graphic depictions of the crime scene details (“Her mouth was sewn shut, but her eyes were still wide.”) and the following violence are delivered in complete sentences with a slight twang, taking the listener into a remarkably traditional style of American folk as updated for the 2000s, partly by using a lonesome synthesizer when another band might use a fiddle.
Portland sextet Blitzen Trapper has quietly asserted itself as one of the supreme bands of the past decade. One of the few bands out there that can still entice and excite us with great new music, they’ve prepared every new work with excellent care and attention. Last year’s Furr was their most accessible album to date and even at that, the back-end of the album featured more of Eric Earley’s awesome boisterous vocals.