Finishing Up 2008….(Sorry For The Delays!)

January 30, 2009 at 8:04 am (Best of 2008)

(Tied at 1.) Blitzen Trapper, Furr

The worst marketer on the planet works at Sub Pop Records, because at some point after signing Blitzen Trapper–a band I’d heard of, but not yet heard–they decided to “package” them alongside labelmates and fellow-Pacific Northwesterners Fleet Foxes, using the success of that latter band’s quiet folkishness to try to angle in a fanbase for the former. Perhaps there are folks out there for whom the constant comparisons to Fleet Foxes worked, and these folks discovered and embraced Blitzen Trapper as a result…but for me the effect was just the opposite. I’m no fan of Fleet Foxes, even though I appreciate their unique sound collages; it just isn’t my thing, and so when Blitzen Trapper put out their fourth record but first on Sub Pop this past year, I ignored it for over a month due to the frequent and label-encouraged comparisons. I knew about Fleet Foxes, I reasoned, and had heard exactly as much of them as I wanted to, thank you.

Eventually and obviously, I did get around to giving Furr a test-spin, and almost instantly I was convinced that there was some mistake. Before we go any further then, let’s be clear about one thing, and let us get it out of the way right here and right now: Blitzen Trapper sounds as much like Fleet Foxes as The Muffs sound like Enya. Those two Sub Pop bands from up in forest country have as much in common as Anne Murray and Sloan. To be more blunt, when considering the relationship between Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper, realize that one of those esteemed artists is a rock band, and one is probably not.

Having just pissed off a great many of you (sorry, calls ’em as I hears ’em!), let me get down to brass tacks on Blitzen Trapper. As referenced earlier, Furr grabs you right away, seconds into the whole enterprise with the song “Sleepytime In The Western World”, perhaps the most intoxicating invitation to give yourself over completely to a record’s charms since the Nazz kicked off their second album with the wonderful “Forget All About It”. Over a bouncing, swirling melody that combines equal parts Mott the Hoople (dig the Blonde on Blonde-ness of organ playing alongside piano) and snarling Mick Ronson-ish guitars, Blitzen Trapper frontman Eric Earley draws you into the Winsor McKay world his band inhabits and makes it all but impossible to willingly leave the rest of this wonderful record.

And so having pulled you into Slumberland, Blitzen Trapper take you on quite the rough-hewn musical odyssey. Drawing on influences from country and folk but never straying particularly far from a tuneful AM-radio rock sense of melody, BT spins out wonderful tunes with a startling effortlessness. “Gold For Bread” hits you with a stunning chorus and amazing guitar lick that seems to come from nowhere. The title track is a gorgeous, rustic tale about a lad raised by wolves and then returned to the world, sounding for all the world like Dylan covering Procol Harum. Songs like “God & Suicide” and “Lady On The Water” have some of the hookiest melodies and arrangements you’ll hear this year, while “Fire & Fast Bullets” sounds like a song Steve Malkmus would’ve killed to have written and “Saturday Nite” is a ’70’s AM radio hit (maybe Hall & Oates doing Richard Thompson?) that never was.

There are two great musical touchstones for Furr, and both are favorites of mine. The first is the post-Fairport Convention band of Iain Matthews, known as Matthews Southern Comfort. MSC was a pretty short-lived enterprise, and only seemed to find their stride on their final of three albums, an lp called Later That Same Year. That same year, 1970, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, an amazing record of rock songs reconsidered with bluegrass and jugband instrumentation. Both records are essentially pop albums that aren’t afraid to put traditional folk and country idioms to work on a good rock and roll song. Blitzen Trapper sound as if they listened to the Nitty’s Uncle Charlie cover of Mike Nesmith’s “Some Of Shelley’s Blues” over and over and over again, and then put Iain Matthews’ “To Love” on and kept both songs on a constant loop and then went out and recorded Furr to sound as if it was a companion piece to those classic gems and succeeding grandly. Furr is a record that is utterly timeless, a wonderfully transportational and transcendent gem.

“Sleepytime In The Western World
“Gold For Bread”

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