[4 March 2009]
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)
Eric Earley does not particularly enjoy being pelted with questions about the material he wrote for Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr” CD. “I hate thinking about what I mean with my songs,” he says. “It constricts them.”
Nor is the frontman fond of trying to make sense of the blizzard of media attention given Blitzen Trapper’s music in the months since “Furr’s” release last September. Tastemakers such as Pitchfork, Paste, Rolling Stone, Spin and Blender have rained down praise on the Portland, Ore., sextet.
“There are so many music writers, just like there are so many bands,” Earley says over the phone from Buffalo, N.Y. “It’s hard to (figure out) who knows what they’re talking about and who is talking out their (butt).”
Although a somewhat reluctant interviewee, Earley does his level best to offer insights into “Furr” if for no other reason than to spread the word about Blitzen Trapper’s tour. “After all,” Earley points out, “the physical act of making music far exceeds anything that’s written about it.”
“Furr” was one of last year’s most imaginative collections of indie-pop, on a par with the best of fellow experimentalists the Decemberists and Of Montreal.
Musically, Blitzen Trapper’s fourth CD is a brilliant patchwork coat of many colors. At different points in the disc’s 13 songs you can hear the influence of Dylan, the Beatles, Neil Young, John Lennon, T. Rex, R.E.M., Gang of Four, Game Theory, the Meat Puppets and even Dr. Dre.
To Earley, such diversity, while unconventional, is liberating. “Some songs are alt-country, some are glam-rock, or hard-rock or folk,” he says. “I like all of it, so I try to find a place for all of that.
“In this day and age it’s difficult for bands to find that place. It was more common 30 years ago. It was easier then for bands to experiment, to show themselves. Now they have to show themselves one specific way in order to sell records. Or it could go deeper. It might be a general mindset, I don’t know.”
That last observation - that people and nations do things mechanically, blissfully unaware, without thinking - is a recurring theme in Earley’s songs.
Case in point: the melodic folk-rocker “Sleepy Time in the Western World.”
“It could be about just falling asleep and dreaming,” says Earley, “but there’s also a certain sense of, like, how Americans are oblivious and have this tendency to sleepwalk through everything, to not dig into anything. We export entertainment to other countries, strange, dreamlike things we leave others to decipher.”
Earley identifies “Love U” as a “companion piece” to “Sleepy Time.” The track opens with Lennonesque primal screaming and abrasive instrumental work before trailing off into lovely harmonies - “I was into Led Zeppelin, you know, ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ when I was doing that,” Earley says. Lyrically, his intent was to sum up the last two years. “Didn’t you get the feeling that we were at the end of something?” asks Earley. “It’s an acknowledgment that these things we have done will end and disappear and be covered over by the earth.”
Modern man’s unnatural relationship with nature also turns up in a tune on the other end of the musical spectrum, “Furr’s” folkie title track. It’s a fable of a man who at 17 joins a wolf pack only to be re-humanized six years later, after falling in love.
“There are reference points in literature for that kind of story - Nebuchadnezzar, Romulus and Remus, ‘The Jungle Book,’” says Earley. “I sat down and wrote that in 10 minutes and recorded it in two hours, all in one night.”
He did the same with “Black River Killer.” Earley calls the riveting murder ballad “a gangster song for white people. That little synthesizer part in back is straight out of Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic.’
“Lately all murder ballads have all been relegated to gangsta rap. I added a spiritual element to make this one even darker. There’s even an element of the supernatural; the killer may even be possessed. In more general terms, it’s about all men, our desire to do good, but we can’t.”