Release Notes:Furr is the fourth record by Portland sextet Blitzen Trapper and the follow-up
to last year?s highly acclaimed Wild Mountain Nation. Written in the gaps of the
group?s frenetic touring schedule and recorded mostly in a hoary old telegraph
building close by the Willamette River, the new record refines and expands on
the far-ranging yet distinctive songcraft that lies at the heart of Blitzen
Trapper?s unique appeal.
Like its predecessor, Furr was made largely in the group?s studio at Sally
Mack?s School of Dance, which is housed in the aforementioned telegraph building
near downtown Portland. This is a small T-shaped room with high ceilings, a
couch, a hot-plate, and a mixing console. During reprieves from tour, songwriter
and producer Eric Earley lived furtively in the studio, crashing on the couch,
but rising with the sun or staying up into the nether hours when the other bands
in the building quit and went home. It was during these quiet times that the new
songs took shape, with rhythm sections printed hot to four-track and then
layered and embellished and deconstructed or sometimes just left the way they
One key to this new material was an ancient, warped piano that appeared in the
hallway one day at Sally Mack?s School of Dance and which was subsequently
muscled into the group?s studio. Though out of tune and missing teeth, this
piano became the warhorse upon which Earley wrote and recorded much of Furr. The
beast has gone away to the landfill now, but you can still hear the clacking and
clattering of its rickety skeleton in songs like ?Not Your Lover? and ?Echo.?
Blitzen Trapper is a group of native Northwesterners, most of whom grew up in
Salem, Oregon. They have lived and played together in Portland since 2000.
Critics and fans have compared their music to just about everything; there have
been calls to coin a new genre. After self-releasing Wild Mountain Nation in
June of 2007, the group ventured beyond the West Coast for the first time to
tour extensively in Europe and North America. Furr is their first Sub Pop
Review by James Christopher Monger
Released in 2007, Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper's third collection of misty, lo-fi, Americana-infused art pop, drew critical acclaim as fast as it switched keys, setting the eclectic Pacific Northwest outfit up for a possible breakthrough with its impending follow-up. One of the many benefits of having your own recording studio (no matter how grand or rickety) is the ability to churn out an album whenever you feel like it, which is why 2008's Furr is so remarkable. The 21st century indie rock D.I.Y. method of record production has a tendency to hold speed and cost over sound quality, but Blitzen Trapper's first release for Sub Pop doesn't just improve upon the promise of WMN, it expands its sonic horizons as well, narrowing the mixtape glee that fueled its predecessor with just enough maturity to lend it considerable weight -- the title track alone, an instantly memorable tale of a boy raised by wolves, seduced by a girl, then returned to the wild, feels timeless in a way few modern songs ever achieve. Fans who were drawn in by the group's manic Of Montreal-meets-Grateful Dead backwoods effusiveness will rally around leadoff tracks "Sleepy Time in the Western World" and "Gold for Bread," both of which mine familiar Blitzen Trapper pop territory, but it's the late-'60s/early-'70s sundown vibe of artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (especially the latter's experimental Symphonion Dream album) that the majority of these new songs bask in.
[Sub Pop; 2008]
Blitzen Trapper's breakthrough album, Wild Mountain Nation (which they self-released last year), caught fire thanks, in part, to its eclecticism and try-anything-once spirit. The Portland, Oregon-based sextet poured twangy Deadhead jams, loose, do-it-yourself Pavement sprawl, muscular Lynyrd Skynyrd riffs, anachronistic synthesizer bursts, and scruffy Band melodies into a rangy collection that was as thrilling for its stylistic alchemy as it was for its infectious good vibes. Precisely what made it so beguiling, however, also made it slightly infuriating: there was no cohesion between all of the diverse yet charmingly shaggy tracks, each one representing a specific sliver of Blitzen Trapper's multiple personalities. It was a gripping mishmash, and it proved that its creators had an obsession with the sounds of the 1970s and a gift for ramshackle melodies. But it left curious listeners wondering who Blitzen Trapper really were. For their follow-up (and Sub Pop debut), the band has narrowed its scope, sharpening their focus, and the result proves they don't need to try so many different approaches when they've found one that works so well.
Furr, the band's fourth full-length, finds the six-piece giving in to their Basement Tapes urges. On acoustic tracks "Lady on the Water" and "Black River Killer", singer Eric Earley offers the most convincing Dylan vocals of this young century. And though the latter-- a gothic fugitive tale of sin, sheriffs, and stolen horses-- is bolstered by an unexpectedly spacey synth line, the former is the sort of sensual, stripped down song that Bob could have performed before he went electric at Newport. The band further pays homage to Mr. Zimmerman with the harmonicas they've spackled onto the title track's folky strummed tale of a wolfman's transformation and the spare, bittersweet piano hymn "Not Your Lover" (incidentally, the album's standout track).
Blitzen Trapper's more cohesive approach has yielded something that is becoming increasingly rare these days: An essential 13-song LP with no filler. There isn't an extraneous verse, much less a superfluous track here. Though they have more clearly defined their shambolic Americana this time around, they still show great range and unpredictability with their songwriting. The harmony-laden, 40-second pastoral coda to "Love U" and the entirety of the drawling, honeyed pedal-steel showcase "Stolen Shoes & a Rifle" make a convincing argument that the dominant sound of Sub Pop in 2008 owes more to the country-rock poignancy of CSNY than the label's punk past (see also: Fleet Foxes, Hardly Art's Moondoggies). The first two and a half minutes of "Love U", however, are a fuzzy, howling soup of reverberating guitars and jittery drum fills set amidst a molasses-slow dirge. And "Echo/Always On/EZ Con" pulls their organic, earnest sound into strange territory, bleeding a "See The Sky About to Rain"-like piano weeper into a brief, burbling mess of tech sounds that evolve into a funky disco strut. It is those sorts of unexpected flourishes that keep the album crackling with excitement and separate Blitzen Trapper from the rest of the bands that are trying their hands at a similar throwback sound.
It would have been hard to follow Wild Mountain Nation with anything as sprawling, expansive, or diverse, so Blitzen Trapper didn't try. Instead, they settled down, focused, and managed to create something even better. This imaginative, heartfelt collection is more intimate than its predecessor, reveling less in boundless stylistic freedom and more in the creativity afforded by structure. Blitzen Trapper are no longer talented jacks-of-all-trades, but a master of one, and Furr is proof that this already-great band gets even better as they define themselves more specifically.
- Rebecca Raber, October 29, 2008