BLITZEN TRAPPER: BLITZEN TRAPPER (2003)
1) The All-Girl Team; 2) Cunning Revolution; 3) Appletrees; 4) Reno; 5) Whiskey Kisser; 6) Triggafinga; 7) Ansel And Emily Desader; 8) Cracker Went Down; 9) Christmas Is Coming Soon; 10) Donkie Boy; 11) Texaco.
Blitzen Trapper did not really «blitzen» on the pop scene radar until 2007's Wild Mountain Nation; by that time, however, they were already active for more than five years on the local scene of Portland, Oregon, and had two self-recorded and self-distributed albums on an unknown indie label called «Lidkercow Ltd.» (which, I suspect, was run by the band themselves in a basement or something — no other releases but their own on it). Coincidentally, at least one of them, the self-titled debut, happens to be one of their very best albums, so, if you like Furr, it is your patriotic duty to locate Mr. Lidkercow, presumably living on Pirate Bay Avenue, and demand that he surrender the goods, so that the glory of the state of Oregon may go undiminished.
The music of Blitzen Trapper is largely the product of bandleader Eric Earley, who also, not surprisingly, sings and plays guitar and the occasional keyboards. Initially, one might see Eric as a sort of wannabe Jeff Tweedy, and one might even be right: Blitzen Trapper has all the trademarks of «intellectualized alt-country», although its debts to «alt-rock» are heavier than those of early Wilco records. However, Earley generally takes stuff less seriously than Tweedy — where even the earliest Wilco records already yield hints that these guys may wanna rule the world, Earley's creations are somewhat less accessible, somewhat more on the «obscurely hip» side.
The best news in town, however, is that Earley comes across as an accomplished songwriter. There is nothing particularly mind-blowing about these songs — but they are good songs with interesting melodies, whether they are governed by tough riffage or moody slide guitars, and also regardless of whose territory the band intrudes upon: ʽThe All-Girl Teamʼ, opening the album, for instance, could easily be mistaken for a long-lost Blur song — it has all the required ingredients, apart from the lack of a clearly discernible British accent: traditionally put together, but original riffs, catchy chorus, angry young man vocal delivery that occasionally spills into heart-warming poppy vocal modulations, and properly sarcastic lyrics ("I'm in charge of the all-girl team!").
But it isn't particularly typical of the album. Soon afterwards, it takes a sharp turn in a roots-rockier direction; yet the songs are almost always positioned at some sort of genre crossroads. ʽCunning Revolutionʼ, for instance, alternates between mystically-oriented guitar jangle and a hard-rocking bluesier section. ʽAppletreesʼ, with its multi-tracked mind-warping vocals and melodic guitar phrasing loaded with special tones and effects, is dance-style psychedelia. ʽRenoʼ is an acoustic shuffle with some impressive slide guitar work that weaves a subtly dark-magical atmosphere. ʽWhiskey Kisserʼ is an uptempo «barroom rocker» with plenty of slide guitar as well, more in the «smart» department than in the «kick-ass» one, but still intriguing. And that's just the first five songs — there is definitely more.
Even if none of the melodies strike me personally as «phenomenal», to the point of wanting to take a particular riff or slide guitar flourish and frame it on the wall next to bits and pieces of Tony Iommi or George Harrison, Earley and pals make the best they can of them. The album was recorded properly in a proper studio (which, according to their own accounts, nearly ruined them financially, but I'd say it was worth it), and the production is perfect — every note that needs to be accentuated is accentuated, every instrument that is supposed to play a larger role than the others gets to play that role. It is perfectly possible that, had a different band written and recorded the album, I would not be struck by the sweetness of the psychedelia of ʽAppletreesʼ, or by the brutality of the fuzz assault of ʽDonkey Boyʼ, or by the plaintive sentimental atmosphere of ʽAnsel And Emily Desaderʼ (which, by the way, betrays a very strong Ray Davies influence).
I do not know, and cannot possibly know, the exact number of albums like this recorded over the last decades — there may be hundreds of them, really, with the level of their notoriety depending exclusively on the luck factor — but retro-oriented bands that do not stimulate their listeners into asking the question «why do I actually need to listen to this?» are few, and I would say that Eric Earley has enough talent to conveniently fall into that minority. Here be a nicely resonant, intellectually comfortable alt-hard-roots-psych-record for us all; thumbs up, no questions asked.