Release Date: Sep 23, 2008
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Alternative, Country
Oregonians spin glitchy sonic expanses into forceful, focused folk rockOn its fourth album, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper channels the rough-hewn abandon of previous releases into focused roots-rollickers, rendering Furr a strange werewolf of an album: Even in its tamest, tenderest moments, a track feels but a swift modulation away from muscle-bound psychedelica. Arrangements come stuffed full with astral blips, jittering guitar riffage and pastoral harmonizing, playing on the strengths of the full sextet. There’s no room for filler here; momentum carries on and roams wide but never eases.
Blitzen Trapper are four albums deep into their career; usually the point where a band can run dry on ideas or take a firm swing at the leftfield. But Blitzen Trapper’s response to last year’s well-received Wild Mountain Nation was to follow it quickly with Furr - their Sub Pop debut - an album fizzing with ideas and nowhere near the leftfield. ‘Sleepytime in the Western World’ opens the set with a Dylan-esque organ and channels the melodic ghost of late period Elliott Smith.
Cursed with a name that summons up either novelty pop or scowling metal, Blitzen Trapper have spent the last few years quietly assembling a charmingly eclectic and faintly unhinged catalogue of music. The Oregon sextet's fourth album continues the work of last year's outstanding Wild Mountain Nation, playfully combining the tropes of Americana - Neil Young and Bob Dylan both cast substantial shadows across Furr - with psychedelia and a keen sense of the musically absurd. Their determination to leave no musical stone unturned means Furr is substantially more fun than is normally expected from Dylan-loving Americans with an affection for facial hair: a fantastic four-song mid-album run takes in heavy rock (Fire & Fast Bullets), slinky faux-funk (Saturday Nite), a murder tale (Black River Killer) and a heartbroken piano ballad (Not Your Lover) with equal alacrity.
Like Man Man, another staunchly independent band that travels in music that can only be described as “American,” Blitzen Trapper have found themselves in a precarious situation for a band as eccentric as they are: how to deal with added expectations brought on by signing to a mid-major (in Blitzen’s case, Sub Pop). While Wild Mountain Nation, the band’s third album, benefitted from the fact it sounded so effortless and it came out of nowhere to be a surprise hit in indie circles, the band’s Sub Pop debut, Furr, has an air of familiarity. The genre experiments are somehow less impacting and reasonably predictable, and the effortlessness seems more purposeful.
As evidenced by Blitzen Trapper's exceptionally eclectic Wild Mountain Nation, the creative Portland, Oregon, crew can do just about anything but maintain a consistent sound and write a simple hook. [rssbreak] They must have had some discussions about the importance of stylistic focus after signing with Sub Pop, because they've definitely locked into a good-time country rock concept on Furr, which seems to be a wise move. However, they've topped up every track with so many hooks and contemporary indie rock clichés that their new songs sometimes go right past catchy into corny.
Following the breakout success of last year's Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper's fourth album and Sub Pop debut delivers a more polished, coherent vision while not sacrificing the Portland sextet's vividly eclectic contortions through alt-folk and garage rock. Most notable is the rise of its influences more clearly to the surface, which provides the tuning fork that WMN often lacked. The album immediately bursts forth with the rollicking "Sleepy Time in the Western World," guitars pitched up and squealing, but ballads "Black River Killer" and "Not Your Lover" shade toward Neil Young, and the winding narrative of the title track sounds like Dylan as filtered through the Byrds.
When Blitzen Trapper’s albumWild Mountain Nation came out last year, it garnered a lot of comparisons to Pavement. Or, at the very least, Jason Crock in his Pitchfork review compared it to Wowee Zowee in terms of its casual diversity, and early Pavement, in terms of the album’s lo-fi quality. I don’t bring this up to start a flame war with a colleague (“Wrong, pal!”), but rather to point out that one would have to be an idiot to ignore Pitchfork’s influence.
Along with ruining the harmonica for every modern-day rocker, Bob Dylan’s influence on other people’s music often comes across as subtle as a sledgehammer. The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser seems stuck in a never-ending audition for I’m Still Not There, and Blitzen Trapper singer/guitarist Eric Earley does the pinched-nose, protracted-vowel routine as well as anyone not named Cate Blanchett. Witness the title track from the Portland, Ore., band’s fourth full-length, which hums along on a six-string’s plaintive strum, a tambourine’s gentle jangle and, true to form, a harmonica’s whistling wheeze.