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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation


1) Devil's A Go-Go; 2) Wild Mountain Nation; 3) Futures & Folly; 4) Miss Spiritual Tramp; 5) Woof & Warp Of The Quiet Giant's Hem; 6) Sci-Fi Kid; 7) Wild Mtn. Jam; 8) Hot Tip / Tough Cub; 9) The Green King Sings; 10) Summer Town; 11) Murder Babe; 12) Country Caravan; 13) Badger's Black Brigade.

Switching from the phantom label of «LidKerCow» to the very much real Sub Pop records, Blitz­en Trapper finally announce their existence to a whole wide world outside Oregon, with their loudest, braggard-est, and best produced record yet. Actually, a correction: they do not so much want to come out into the whole wide world as they want the whole wide world to come to them. "Come out from the world and into my arms / Like wind on the water with me / Come out from the city come out from the town / Build stone by stone a wild mountain home". This is the way the title track greets you, on a shallow warm wave of slide and electric guitars and a swaying an­themic rhythm that goes particularly well with a mug or two.

But Blitzen Trapper are not The Avett Brothers, and their wildland hearts never stay for too long in the wildlands: their real ambition stays the same — to capture all sorts of audiences by means of an intelligent synthesis. This is where the bearded hillbilly is supposed to peacefully coinhabit the same territory with the smug hipster, trading quite a few floating genes in the process. Why they have to do this, other than provide a reason for another rock band's existence, is another question... and it is up to each one of us to decide if we want to enrich our meaning of life by try­ing as hard as we can to find the answer.

At this point, a responsible reviewer would need to write something like «Me, I'm too busy just enjoying all the cool music to give a damn». The problem is — despite all of Earley's unquestio­nable talent, this music is just way too cool to be normally enjoyable. It begs for all sorts of ques­tions, and provokes confusion after confusion. The band's previous albums were, after all, a little less «over the top», but on Wild Mountain Nation they pull so many different rabbits out of the hat that, eventually, the magic show turns into a zoo.

ʽDevil's A-Go-Goʼ kicks off the proceedings with a three-minute multipart suite that includes elements of power pop, tricky Captain Beefheart-influenced avantgarde rhythms, Grateful Dead-style mind-melting psychedelia, and a noisy dissolution into chaos. Out of its ashes rises the title track — mind you, these guys that beg you to come to their wild mountains with them are the same ones that just infested your mind with a ridiculously incoherent concatenation, so I would think twice, personally, before «saddling up to ride». Then, after being lulled into a peaceful easy feeling with the colorful, bouncy folk-pop of ʽFutures & Follyʼ and its McCartney spirit, you are immediately given a gut-kick by the thick Panzer distortion of ʽMiss Spiritual Trampʼ — a hard-rocking sound through which, however, they still seep through occasional slide guitars and har­mo­nicas, just to place the «rootsy-tootsy» seal on everything, for protection.

Actually, it all sounds great. The soft songs lull and pacify, the loud songs invite the air guitar, and the avantgarde / experimental bits and pieces are a fine glue to keep the soft and loud songs together. It all sounds so great that you do not even immediately notice the utter silliness of some­thing like ʽWoof & Warp Of The Quiet Giant's Hemʼ — even if, in reality, it is just a repetitive, off-yer-head carnival stomp where you are supposed to jump around the fire and shout «yeah yeah yeah» to spook off a bloodthirsty demon or something. It simply falls in place as part of that crazy kaleidoscope: a bit of its own craziness rubs off on everything else.

But you know what? I would rather have preferred it all with a different sequencing. For instance, place all the quiet acoustic songs on one side and all the wild romps on the other. Because I feel that the quiet songs are actually the stronger ones, reflecting a juicier, brighter side of Earley's heart than his attempts to make himself feel at home with the loud rock scene. ʽSummer Townʼ, in particular, is a beautiful ballad, all minimalistic acoustic lines, flutes, and soft psychedelic overdubs, one of those tunes where you cannot decide whether it is melancholy or tenderness that rules the scene, and this indecision keeps sucking you in. And my personal fav is ʽCountry Cara­vanʼ, one of those tunes where you know that all that separates this rather ordinary country-pop tune from greatness is the lack of a big fat friendly electric guitar solo, and then it finally comes and you're all like, "I knew it! Didn't I?"...

Yet with all this mixing going on, neither the soft nor the hard songs help out each other. It is one thing to have yourself a White Album, one that can allow itself to disregard sequencing because each number is so strong on its own that it creates a special link to its context in your mind regar­dless of whether that link was originally planned or not. Eric Earley, on the other hand, is no J. P. Len­non-McCartney, and these songs are not highly memorable — they are of the «make you feel so good while they're on» kind rather than the «forever and ever you'll stay in my heart» kind. And Wild Mountain Nation's eclectic mix keeps confusing me. On the good side of things, it means that I will definitely be coming back here, to keep checking on the potential greatness I have missed; but on the bad side of things, the overall reaction is still a large question mark, and I wouldn't want to be coming back without some sort of guarantee that I will not be wasting my time. Anyway, thumbs up for the ongoing mystery of Blitzen Trapper while it is still a mystery.

Check "Wild Mountain Nation" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Wild Mountain Nation" (MP3) on Amazon

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