Review: Blitzen Trapper - "Furr"
hank Sunday, October 05, 2008
I've taken a job recently at a Louisville free weekly (the LEO) writing music reviews. It's an interesting task, because unlike writing for WLFY, I don't get the opportunity to choose my product and by in large, I have no idea the bands that I'm writing about. It's caused me to rethink what makes a good album. Lots of LPs contain pass songs, the songs that you skip on your ipod or cd player. Does an a lot of these songs mean that the album isn't good? Can a great track make up for two to three passes?
I was really hot on Blitzen Trapper when their album Wild Mountain Nation came out over a year ago. Their track "Sci-fi Kid" has made it on practically every mixtape I made, so I was really psyched to hear Furr, the band's 4 LP and debut for uber-indie label Sub Pop. For the first couple songs, it seemed that Furr had surpassed my expectations. "Gold for Bread" is one of the most epic tunes of the year. It features all of the great things about Wild Mountain Nation and takes them to the next level -- Grateful Dead inspired guitar licks, keyboard blips, and strong harmonies that both expose the groups influences and build upon them.
Trapper has added other potent styles to their arsenal as well. The title track "Furr" is a folk ballad about a boy who is raised by wolves, meets a woman, and returns to civilization, though he ends up dreading it. "Black River Killer" is a 21st century murder ballad: "It was just a little while past the Sunset Strip / I found a girl's body in an open pit / Her mouth was sown shut but her eyes were open wide / Gazin' through the fog to the other side." The simple guitar line is accented by keyboards, which sound like they were lifted from early Dr. Dre albums.
Then there are tunes like "Saturday Nite" which owes more to the Beatles's White Album and Mungo Jerry than the Grateful Dead. It's a jaunty keyboard dominated song which is as poppily infectious as anything that came out of the Brille Building and a splendid breakdown. Or "God & Suicide" with dark downbeats and existential lyrics - "I can live with God and with Suicide / The same thing goes when I close my eyes." And then there is "Not Your Lover" which is devistatingly earnest, somber, and as close to a love ballad that Trapper will let themselves get to, apathetic, striving, and gorgeous.
I bring up all these tunes, because there are some on here which are downright clunkers. Well, that's too harsh. I'd take Trapper's clunkers over most other band's masterpieces. Take "Fire & Fast Bullets" which, despite the fantastic name, never gets off the ground. Or "Love U" which begins with a screaming bluesman's dream: "I love you baby, like a theif love money / like a wheel gotta roll / like my shoe got soul!" The only problem is that rather than driving engery from this, the song kind of lumbers along drowned in feedback and heavy cymbals. Trapper is at their best when they're surprising you with what comes in next, when they turn on a dime, when they pay homage to rock's lineage while inserting their own flavor. This track doesn't do that, it seems oddly muddy, unclear, obese.
Despite these tracks, this album suceeds more than in falters. It's probably a lot more country that a listener who got into them on Wild Mountain Nation would expect. But, don't expect Trapper to stick with one style for too long, like a lot of the lyrics, this band is all about movin' on. You find the best parts of the band in where these styles disjoint and coalesce into an authentic sound.
So do a few skiped tracks make this album any less? For me, they don't, because the other tracks more than make up for it. And, my next button still works.