Blitzen Trapper

Sub Pop Records, 2008


REVIEW BY: Josh Allen


Blitzen Trapper, an alt-folk sextet from Portland, Oregon, raised the eyebrows of critic after critic with their 2007 release Wild Mountain Nation, a dizzying, 13-track exploration that flaunted consistency and rewarded scatterbrainedness.

While decidedly less frenetic than its critically acclaimed predecessor, Furr  still maintains an atypical air, reminding me of Of Montreal’s subdued alter-ego with a twist of alternative country.  Much of the album consists primarily of upbeat, poppy guitar riffs and brisk harmonizing vocals, with intermittent enhancements to the instrumentation -- organ-like keyboards and electronic accents here, mandolin and steel guitar there.

Despite a couple of mediocre, weak spots (such as “God & Suicide”), it’s a generally successful formula, particularly in the first half of the album.  “Sleepytime In The Western World,” as the title suggests, is a dreamy, borderline ridiculous charade of an opener.  While you’re confronted immediately with the band’s oddities, you also can tell right away from the unusually catchy chord progressions and melodies that you’re in for an interesting listen.  Up front, “Gold For Bread” and “Saturday Nite” are especially appealing with their upbeat, shuffling rhythms, and the latter spotlighting a charming mandolin solo.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Meanwhile, the title track “Furr” is an absolute masterpiece; it’s a whimsical folk tune about a wandering soul that, enamored by the wild, assimilates with a pack of wolves.  Only after meeting and falling in love with a pearl-skinned girl six years later (“You should have seen that girl go shaky at the knees”), who herself holds a fondness for the feral, does he return to reality.  A thumping bass drum and periodic snippets of birds and other wildlife back poetic lyrics dripping with vivid imagery.  Interestingly, the last line of the chorus ignores the rhyme scheme (“If you’re gonna get made / Don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned”).

But like any great album, Furr ventures outside of the comfort zone it establishes in the first handful of songs, lest it become one-dimensional and yawn-inducing.  The mellow minor key and melancholy lyrics of “Black River Killer” come as a bit of a surprise (albeit a welcome one after some of the farcical material that preceded it) as it follows a serial killer’s unwillingness to amend his murderous ways, despite his religiously motivated efforts. It’s also another example of the album’s fascinating lyrics, which demonstrate the supposed cleansing of the character’s spirit, followed immediately by a return to form as a serial killer:  “I washed myself clean as a newborn babe / And then I picked up a rock for to sharpen my blade.”

In addition, country influences permeate a few tracks quite strongly.  Lead vocalist Eric Earley croons just like Neil Young or Jayhawks great Gary Louris in “Not Your Lover,” and steel guitar and twangy vocals dominate “Stolen Shoes & A Rifle.”  “Love U,” by contrast, is a wild attempt at the proverbial curveball that fails to come close to matching the quality of the rest of the album.  A limping beat, blaring distortion, and futile attempts at Stephen Tyler-esque screaming leaving you wondering if what you heard was just a bad joke.  (And speaking of bad jokes, the track’s opening line: “I love you baby ... Like my shoe got sole.”)

With Furr, Blitzen Trapper strikes a perfect balance in creating music that appeals to a broader crowd while maintaining its quirkiness that led to their pre-2008 rise.  A diverse collection of songs that sample the best of a variety of genres, it’s an album -- and a band -- that deserves your attention.

Rating: B

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