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Blitzen Trapper

Destroyer of the Void

[Sub Pop; 2010]

By ; June 23, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

There’s something to be said about the groundswell that formed underneath Blitzen Trapper after the release of their 2008 LP, Furr – the constant (and I’m sure at some point, grating) comparisons to folk behemoths and labelmates Fleet Foxes didn’t drown out their actual music, but only because their actual music was so damn good. Instead, it strengthened their following and put the band on the fast track to becoming one of Sub Pop’s finest. On Destroyer of the Void, lead singer Eric Earley and his band continue on what made Furr such a success and for the most part, keep the sound that got them to this high point close to their chest.

However, the title track on the group’s fifth full length effort is a proclamation of sorts – here is Earley, lifting the cover off of his well-kept record collection, showcasing his favorites as he introduces “Destroyer of the Void” through a looking glass pointed at 1976. It is a progressive whirlwind wherein the band brazenly opens their playbook and applies a single idea from every page, with the end result providing us with a kind of a sampler of what this disc has in store. A bold introduction for a group that hasn’t strayed much from the tightly stitched American rock formula over the course of their increasingly solid releases, but this six minute tour de force showcases the sextet from Portland’s prog-chops as they clearly set off to separate this album from the likes of their last Sub Pop contribution. “Destroyer” thematically tees up the rest of this relatively abstract record quite well, but we never do hear anything else like it across the remaining eleven tracks.

Instead, as Void progresses, the band seems to get more tentative, distancing themselves from that explosive avant-garde opening act and reverts back to the simplified roots of their sound. This is not so much a disappointment as it is a tease, and it left me wondering just why it was such a short lived experiment. The spacey synths that were so prominent in their earlier material nearly fade away completely by the time the album’s second track, “Laughing Lover,” a thumping fare led by the band’s shining guitars, comes to a halt. Earley and company instead opt to assemble these songs with a more organic instrumentation, trading Moogs for strings to touch up the intricate melodies. The second half of this record burns slowly but provides us with some of Earley’s most lush and varied arrangements yet, from the starry piano driven ballad “Heaven and Earth” to the circusy staccatos in “Lover Leave Me Drowning,” the band plays to its strengths as they hop and skip across genres.

Lyrically, Earley essentially continues with what helped make Furr so great; creating fantastical characters and atmospheres that give life to the music and individualize an otherwise fairly inclusive sound. Nature is a lyrical cornerstone throughout Void as Earley paints with vivid metaphors fit for a storybook, still filling it with the shady, crooked characters that made songs like “Black River Killer” and its new counterpart “The Man Who Would Speak True” so distinctive. “The Tailor,” though, is a look at a different sort of character; it tells the story of a humbling man who “built a house out of an old oak tree/and raised a family out of Earth and electricity,” when he was left with but a needle and thread when everything he had was taken from him. Again, it’s the kind of songwriting that is just begging to be conceptualized on a larger scale, but these smaller narratives still stand strong on their own figurative merits.

After the last note on “Sadie,” though, I couldn’t help but think that Void should have been an interesting step forward; instead it’s more appropriate to call it an interesting step sideways. The band is at its folkiest with this record, and while briefly touching onto uncharted territory, showing us a glimpse of new potential, there’s absolutely nothing here that will alienate their fan base – and that’s okay. When you write songs as well Earley does, there isn’t much left to be desired, and what he accomplishes here is well worth the foray into his expansive imagination. Like the tree Earley sings of, Blitzen Trapper’s music is connected to roots firmly planted into American soil and it continues to grow. “Like a tree that never ends,” he says. Let’s hope so.


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