Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing

Rating: ★★½ · ·

It’s strange; sometimes, bands that have been around for a while often don’t change their sound, be it for fear that they will lose those who became enraptured by their original sound, or that they just don’t see themselves as anything else than what they were before. This seems to be the case with Blitzen Trapper on this album, as their only shift seems to be to a bit more of a bluesy spin on their Americana craft.

American Goldwing is one of those albums that just don’t have enough chutzpah to keep me focused and interested in for more than five songs. It starts out fairly strong, even though nothing novel, but progressively ceases to retain my interest as the songs drag on and on to its close. The first song, “Might Find It Cheap,” sums up this phenomenon in a single swoop. Yea, it’s a good song and I can get down with those fuzzy guitars and the traditionally tangy vocals, I just feel like I’ve heard it from Blitzen Trapper before. Their distinct crookedly country Americana rock sound works against them in that the sound from previous albums resonates deeper and makes it hard to listen to these tracks when I know there are astoundingly better renditions on Furr or other prior albums.

My favorite track on this record comes third, at a time where I’m looking for something to spice up this album. “Love the Way You Walk Away,” takes a new stance that I’ve been longing for this band to take. Even though it is of a country note, which I don’t often find myself enjoying, there is new territory to be covered at last. Bluesy undertones patter in the background while harmonies swoon in the foreground. If you listen carefully, you can hear deep bass drums at some points and of course there is that steel pedal guitar that pushes the song around in dominance. Late in the track, this band slows things down with a little harmonica and it’s easy to find yourself singing right alongside Eric Earley and the rest of the gang. It’s simply the song with the most redeeming and interesting qualities to be found on American Goldwing.

By all means, if you are a Blitzen Trapper addict, you’ll love this album. It has everything that you’ve already been shown, perhaps with one or two tracks that take a new direction. As for me, and I’m sure others, I’m in need of something a little bit fresher to keep me intrigued in this band’s sound. Perhaps it is coming on their next release, or perhaps I just need to revisit those old gems in the catalog of this band.

Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer Of The Void

Rating: ★★★½ ·

ATH Favorite and Portland, OR’s own Blitzen Trapper are back with their latest from Sub-Pop; the ominously titled Destroyer of the Void. The task of following up 2008’s critically acclaimed Furr was no easy one. Following in such momentum of an impressive record and equally hyped tour however is easy with the laundry list of talents and influences which Blitzen Trapper wear proudly on their sleeve. The last time we spoke to the band during ACL in 2009, they told us they were going to highlight more piano and it quickly becomes apparent with their latest they held true to form.

From the first notes of the title track to the last not on ‘Sadie’, the record as a whole is very piano heavy utilizing once again strong song writing fundamentals from Eric Earley. ‘Destroyer of the Void’ (the song) shows in no uncertain terms the sampling of everything in their bag of tricks. These influences and genres include piano ballads, strong off-kilter harmonies, good old fashioned rock, a little country thrown in for good measure, and as always strong songwriting fundamentals. On the second track, ‘Laughing Lover’ the piano is again the focus and this time it is the catalyst for wonderful layering techniques that are quickly becoming the band’s new trademark sound. ‘Below the Hurricane’ and ‘The Man Who Would Speak True’ form a good 1-2 punch with slow intros building into a tempo that the band seem to thrive in, similar to that found on ‘Black River Killer” from Furr. Solid harmonica play starts in the former and continues through the latter creating wonderful flow and consistency. If Earley is good a one thing as heard in the release, it’s creating compelling stories.

From there, the group deals with duality on ‘Love and Hate’ and again on ‘Heaven and Earth’. The latter finally shows more of the heavy blues sound listeners grew used to on such releases as Wild Mountain Nation. This change in pace is short-lived however, with Earley back into piano ballad mode with the latter.  The high point for this listener comes a little halfway through the album starting off with ‘Dragon’s Song’ and its bluesy, almost Shin’s worthy instrumentation, into a wonderful duet with Alela Diane on ‘The Tree’, and topping it off with ‘Evening Star’, perhaps the most lasting and single-worthy track on the entire release.

Overall, the album is much quieter and subdued than any previous release. That may not be the best thing to keep a relatively new and hungry fan-base appeased, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. It shows some growth into not relying too heavy on one idea and for Earley, shows the continuous drive for writing the perfect song. Though I continually refer back to Furr and Wild Mountain Nation in years past, only time will tell if this album holds the same staying power. On first taste, the momentum gained by the band following Furr is slowed a little by this release, but only sidelines it slightly. The strengths of Blitzen Trapper are growing and they do many things very well.  This release definitely fills the void left by Furr, but Destroy? That may be a little presumptuous.

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

Rating: ★★★★ ·

On their first album, Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper was all over the place.  They played classic rock in a crooked modern pop manner, but the vocals lacked clarity in delivery.  Their newest album, Furr, offered hopes of better production with the backing of Sub Pop Records, and dreams of consistency.

Those of us with high hopes might have to admit that despite the band’s efforts, we are only having our needs fulfilled on one level, that of the vocal delivery.  It’s predominant departure from their previous effort, which does make this one exceedingly better than its predecessor.

One would be hard-fought not to notice the 60s-70s rock influences draped across this entire album, but they were there in the past.  The previous albums spoke softly of such influences, but they step it up entirely on this album.  All of this is furthered by the strength in production on this album, which pushed the influences to the forefront, rather than disguising them in  a lack of clarity created by walls of noise.

They did write one of their worst songs ever, and chose to include it.  “Love U” is full of unadulterated yelping, and it rarely provides anything worth holding onto.  It’s merely walls of screaming, accompanied by sloppy musicianship, and it stands right in the middle of the album–just skip it.

Almost every single listener who has a weakness for the folkier moments in rock n’ roll will surely find the rest of the album enjoyable.  Each track seems to recall another musician at every turn, as if the band set out to write an album full of covers.  Songs like “Echos/Always on/EZ con” and title track “Furr” are purely magnificent.  The subdued tones of each song warrants repeated listens for the rest of the year; the folkier side of Blitzen Trapper is where the band, ultimately, performs at their best.

It would be easy to pigeonhole this band as one intent upon revisiting the past, but they seem to have their own spin on our heralded past.  One would be remiss to toss this band to the side due to a lack of originality; give it a couple of spins and you’ll find that the songs seem strikingly modern.  The band is knocking at the door step of a solid album, and Furr is an album that furthers that dream for both the listener and the band.