Blitzen Trapper: VII

Now veterans releasing their seventh album, Portland's Blitzen Trapper lose their way somewhat in attempting to update their sound.

Blitzen Trapper


Label: Vagrant / Lojinx
US Release Date: 2013-10-01
UK Release Date: 2013-09-30

Blitzen Trapper has always had one foot in the past. The Portland outfit's last few albums alone have incorporated flavours of Laurel Canyon folk, Ozzy-era Black Sabbath and the mid-'70s prog stylings of Queen into songs of old-timey rural American concerns. At their best, the band have spun their disparate influences into something distinctively theirs, but, at times, they have also invited accusations of being excessively reverential or unoriginal. On 2011's enjoyable American Goldwing, the band sounded very settled into their formula, by which things appear to have changed by the time they got to recording this seventh LP. Blitzen Trapper has attempted to modernise their sound while preserving their rustic appeal and, in short, they have failed.

To varying degrees, each song on VII comprises a combination of two main elements. On the one hand there is Trapper's classic sound: banjos, dusty guitars and Eric Earley's craggy voice all bringing to mind the British and American rock and folk giants of the '60s and '70s. On the other, there are a host of awkwardly placed sounds the band apparently associate with “new” music: hip-hop beats, faux-rapped vocals, and synthesizers. There is also an occasional tendency towards the inane repetition that so dominates 21st century pop, and even the occasional sound of record scratching. Particularly at first, it is a jarring combination of elements.

In cases such as these the inclusion of new elements will either work well and enhance the overall sound, or not work well and damage it. What makes VII so dispiriting a listen is that it is worse than that in this case – the “contemporary” elements do feel misplaced and alien, but they have also distracted Trapper to the extent that even their core arsenal has begun to misfire. Suddenly, following album after album of broad consistency, the band's instrumentation has become less interesting, solos never quite spark, and only one song – the fairly back-to-basics Blitzen Trapper of old that is "Ever Loved Once" – even matches the weaker recordings on their recent efforts.

The area in which the album most falls short is the lyrics. Earley's writing has always had a slightly hokey nature to it, but, for much of VII, it veers into truly hackneyed territory – the songs often amount to little more than a succession of tired clichés about dogs on porches and pick-up trucks. Among the worst culprits are the maddeningly repetitive "Shine On" and "Thirsty Man", which digs up some of the most decrepit similes there are (“your love's like rain in the desert to a thirsty man”). Add to this those bizarre efforts at a modernised sound and what results is the depressing spectacle of a once-great band appearing to parody themselves.

In fairness to Blitzen Trapper, VII isn't all bad. While the songs almost never coalesce into anything as strong as even their last two albums – let alone 2008's acclaimed Furr – there are often snatches of interesting harmonica and guitar playing, or the odd serviceable line from Earley. It is also worth noting that at more than a decade and seven albums in, Blitzen Trapper are perhaps almost overdue a confused, mid-career misstep of an album. Their admirable staying power up to now suggests they've a lot of life left in them, but in future they would do well to counter this blip by making the music that suits them best, not the music they feel they ought to make.





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.