Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Jam and Destroyer of the Void (Music Review)

Like most people, I discovered Blitzen Trapper with their 2008 album Furr. I was impressed enough to check out two more of their releases: Wild Mountain Nation and Destroyer of the Void. This creates a tricky situation for this blog, though: Since I only review works that are new to me, I’m in the position of examining one that pre-dates Furr and one that is more recent, while my main point of reference for Blitzen Trapper’s work is not being reviewed. Hopefully that doesn’t make things too confusing.

Wild Mountain Nation cover

Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation

It’s amazing to see how different Wild Mountain Nation is from the breakout album that came a year later. The elements that would eventually make Furr are all there, from Eric Earley’s simple, high-pitched voice to the weird folk approach of the music. But while Blitzen Trapper now seems like a pretty straightforward indie-rock band with folk and classic rock trappings, Wild Mountain Nation sounds much more like the work of a stoner band.

In some ways, this helps to explain the band’s songs a lot. The hard-to-parse lyrics and meandering styles of Furr make a lot more sense if you imagine a bunch of stoners playing around instead of taking them at face value. Of course, Wild Mountain Nation is much further more out there, with lyrics that don’t seem to be concealing any deeper meanings (“She had a sweet tooth: Kiss-and-tell phone booth”). The music is much rougher, but there is actually more variety throughout the album. “Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem” revolves around a simple synth line with lyrics of “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”, while “Summer Town” is a heartfelt ballad whose harmonies and guitar-plucking could have come from any time in the past forty years. “Wild Mtn. Jam” sounds more like a country version of Ween than Ween’s actual country album, but “Murder Babe” could be a testosterone-filled hard rock song if the singer dropped an octave and the band slowed down by about 1/3.

The songs vary from pleasant to jarring, without ever delivering something that truly stands out. It’s not always successful (“The Green King Sings” occasionally sounds like a passive-aggressive band trying to drown out their oblivious singer), but the skill is definitely there. Blitzen Trapper just hadn’t nailed down their sound yet. The only surprise is how suddenly the then-four-year-old band was able to find the right mix for Furr the following year. The experimental, unserious nature is a welcome change from the styles that dominate the indie scene these days, but by coating it in a more staid, folk sound, the band managed to fit in with the modern scene without losing the subversive edge.

Destroyer of the Void cover

Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void

Once they found that mix, Blitzen Trapper apparently liked it. 2010’s Destroyer of the Void goes further along the path of rich folk-pop with a classic rock influence. The abrasive sounds and occasional yelps are gone, and the epic 6 minute opener makes a sharp contrast to Wild Mountain Nation’s OCD. The strange perspective is still present, along with lyrics that seem to make sense until you try to parse the specifics. It seems like the best way to explain it might be that they have changed from a “stoner band” to one with “psychedelic influences”.

Destroyer doesn’t have any tracks to match Furr’s standouts. Really, Furr’s first half had a more energetic edge that made it immediately appealing and earned some radio play. Destroyer takes its cues from the softer songs. Fortunately, though, it gives them more appeal: Furr seemed to lose its direction whenever the band calmed down, but this new album avoids the lows even if it doesn’t have the highs. It’s consistently good, even if it wouldn’t serve as the catchiest introduction for a new listener.

The sound might be more consistent now, but Blitzen Trapper continues to write interesting new songs instead of revisiting specifics of the past. The only exception is the strange “The Man Who Would Speak True”, a close cousin to Furr‘s “Black River Killer”. Both are murder ballads whose narrator is undeniably evil, but references a moral code that doesn’t quite make sense. The soulful vocals and soft music would normally be used for songs about introspective heroes, putting them at odds with the song’s actual theme. It’s a clever trick, but it mainly works because it is so rare for the band to revisit past styles.

I’m glad Furr led me to try out these two albums. They provided a lot more variety than I expected, and also gave me a new perspective of the album I already knew. Neither were quite as good as Furr had been, but Destroyer did manage to come close. It’s only a few weeks until this band’s next release, and I’m looking forward to it now that I know both how skilled and how experimental they can be.

Wild Mountain Nation: C+

Destroyer of the Void: B

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  1. December 11th, 2011

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