Blitzen Trapper charged onto the scene last year with their eclectic DIY, self-released masterpiece Wild Mountain Nation- their third album on their own Lidkercow Records label. Upon the success of last year’s model, however, the Trapper boys signed with major indie label Sub Pop and went nuts on the recording budget.
They recorded this project in the same converted local telegraph station as the others, but it’s apparent that more time was taken with this outing- as it is not nearly as loose around the edges as its predecessors. Depending on what you like about Blitzen Trapper- this information will either excite you or appall you.
The elements of the true Blitzen Trapper sound are still in place, with raucous guitars and quirky keyboards mixed into Eric Earley’s earthy songs. However there are not as many uptempo rockers as on previous outings- with more reliance on Earley’s more plaintively contemplative folk-flavored songs. Here again, this may or may not sit well with fans, depending on how one feels about Earley’s more reflective material, I would suppose.
I have been told (although I am unable to verify at this time) that Furr is a concept album about a boy who discovers that he is a wolf. Not having been able to audition the album more than three or four times, that theme is impossible to ascertain- but it is entirely possible. The album kicks off with “Sleepytime in the Western World,” a cheery number, infused with close vocal harmonies and an organ part stolen directly from Al Kooper in Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street. A hot guitar solo in the middle helps the arrangement, as does a Dylanesque turn following the solo. Clearly the same band as that on Wild Mountain Nation.
“Gold For Bread” is cut from the same cloth, up tempo- with memorable George Harrison-esque slide guitar fills by Eric Menteer and klutzy keyboard sounds bubbbling up around the edges. Brian Koch’s off-kilter syncopated drums are clearly in the fore here. The title track is a sprightly capoed-acoustic guitar number, which is definitely about a boy who becomes a wolf, whether the rest of the album conforms to that, or not. Earley’s Dylan-like harp is backed simply by a kick drum and tambourine and random keyboard effects. Pleasant.
The following number, “God & Suicide” sort of mingles all the previous songs on the album thus far- creating a sort of Neo-Grateful Dead sound: rooted in Workingman’s Dead, with 21st century accoutrements. Very nice. “Fire & Fast Bullets” is possibly the closest to the sound the band established on WMN. Cultily catchy and idiosyncratically memorable. ”Saturday Nite” is a chipper little ditty, mostly acoustic in character, with snappy snare accompaniment, plunking piano and just enough weirdness to make it Blitzen trapper.
Sounding as if out in Tom Petty meets Bob Dylan territory, “Black River Killer,” is folky soulful, with an unique little keyboard filigree, melting over the dark lyrical imagery. “Not Your Lover” is a simple piano number- straight out of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush (think the title track from that album- minus the spaceships and silver seeds).
Probably the biggest musical departure on the album is the blues inflected screamer “Love U”- which could be a sequel to the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) with Earley’s throat-grating vocal in total Lennon mode. Another Dead-like (think “Casey Jones” updated forty years on) piece, “War On Machines,” has a loping quality that is instantly recognizable as Blitzen Trapper. More produced than you might expect from these fellas- it’s still an acoustic laced rocker with a goodtime vibe.
Another country-twinged ballad- simple steel-guitar mournfully wails behind Earley’s easygoing vocal on “Stolen Shoes & a Rifle“- with close vocal harmonies. Koch swings in on the second verse, adding propulsion, while Drew Laughery’s piano adds backbone. “Echo/Always On/EZ Con” is elegiac and orchestral and a real departure for the Trapper lads. Not bad, just somewhat disconcerting. The first third of the song stops abruptly- as if someone grabbed the tape reel (probably not a tape reel- but that’s what it sounds like)- before evolving into a space age prog-rockish jam between melodica and organ. Odd.
Finally “Lady On The Water” is a gentle love song with dallying finger picking on acoustic guitars and flute-like shadows in the background. Think of Bob Dylan fronting Jethro Tull (during their acoustic period). Strange, but not bad.
Fans resistant to change will be somewhat upset with Furr. It sounds like Blitzen Trapper all right, but here the band sounds serious (in a musical sense), which was hardly the case heretofore. Their madcap qualities are kept to a minimum. This is not to say that the material is without appeal, because the band’s customary eccentricity is still highly evident- but the rough edges have been polished somewhat- and some people are going to feel that the band has sold out because they have decided to become more precise and deliberate. But in most quarters, this album will be seen as the band growing and taking themselves seriously as professional musicians. And the transformation will be welcomed.