September 17th, 2008 | by MICHAEL MANNHEIMER Music | Posted In: Columns, Album Reviews, Album Reviews

Blitzen Trapper: Furr

     
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[SCI-FI AMERICANA] Talking about a Blitzen Trapper record as a whole is not only a near impossibility; it’s almost against the point. Ever since 2004’s Field Rexx (and continued on last year’s schizo-pop masterstroke Wild Mountain Nation), the Portland sextet has balanced equal doses of shiny indie-pop; rawkus, noisy guitar outbursts and zany synth-and-spurs space-country straight out of Westworld. So it was a bit surprising to hear “Furr,” the advanced single and title track of the band’s new record (its first for Seattle tastemaker Sub Pop), with its simple, guitar and harmonica-laced narrative. What happened to all that weirdness?

Turns out that judging a Blitzen Trapper record by its advanced single isn’t such a wise idea—Furr is just as gloriously eclectic as Wild Mountain Nation, jumping styles and time signatures without hesitation—but it’s also a mellower affair. Eschewing the wilder guitar freak-outs for a steady dose of midtempo pop, the first thing you notice about Furr is the piano, which replaces the buzzing keyboards that hummed through Wild Mountain Nation. The new record wades even further into Americana than WMN—from the Byrds-lite grandeur of “Sleepytime in the Western World” to the rollicking Elton John rave-up, “Saturday Nite.” There’s even a middle-of-the-album ballad, “Not Your Lover,” though it’s a sizable misstep that grounds the album’s momentum to a near-halt.

Still, Furr is a very tight record, just one that finds Blitzen Trapper in transition: from self-release to big-deal indie label; from former glory to new inspirations. Blitzen Trapper could probably compose songs like the bouncing, kaleidoscopic “Gold For Bread” any day of the week—but it’s more interesting when the group takes an understated, maudlin folk song and turns it into something weirder. “Furr” sounds like a classic bildungsroman by way of Dylan, until you realize it’s about a boy turning into a wolf. It’s not a perfect record, but Furr contains plenty of moments like this where the band’s songwriting chops shine. Just don’t expect anything too...normal.

 
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