Hey. Do you remember the album? (If Bollocks! is ever awesome enough to have t-shirts, one of them will be “Remember the Album!” and it will shortly thereafter replace “Remember the Alamo” as a battle cry.) See, kids, back in the day, bands made entire albums of songs, meant to be heard from start to finish. You know, instead of five singles and five filler-songs? Well, Blitzen Trapper (from Portland like half of the awesome music I’ve heard this year) remembers the album. They also remember The Band, The Beatles, and 70’s David Bowie. And if you like 1)albums, 2)The Band, 3) The Beatles and 4)You see where I’m going with this, right? Well, get ready to fucking love Furr, Blitzen Trapper’s first album for Sub Pop and the follow up to their whacked-out, awesome, self-released Wild Mountain Nation.
I saw Blitzen Trapper open for The Hold Steady last year and I must confess, at the time, I had no idea what to do with them. They looked like hippies and it made sense to me that they were from Portland. But their music was all over the map. There were elements of heavy metal, folk, punk, and country. The dudes completely won me over by the end of their set and I ran out and picked up Wild Mountain Nation (which is tied with Grand Buffet’s King Vision for “Most Undeservedly Overlooked Album of 2007”) soon after.
On Furr, Blitzen Trapper has streamlined some of their weirdness (some) and highlighted their ability to sagaciously synthesize the Beatles’ pop sound with the broke-ass country of The Band. “Sleepytime in the Western World,” launches Furr and the album does not let up until the soft country closer “Lady on the Water.” These northwest hippies have slapped together something that simultaneously sounds like nothing you’ve heard before and everything you’ve heard before. Kinda like Beck used to.
“Sleepytime” is total Paul McCartney pop, the kind of thing that would come off as a novelty song if Blitzen Trapper weren’t so naturally, earnestly weird. “Gold for Bread” follows, showing that Blitzen Trapper really has picked up something that’s been lost in the last couple of Beck records. And then we get to the title track. “Furr” is a folk/country ditty with a beautiful melody that smacks of evangelical lycanthropy with lines like “You’d better be sure/ if you’re makin’ God a liar.” The song is about a guy who turns into a wolf and then back into a human, but don’t worry: vocalist Eric Earley handles it very well, again with that off-handed weirdness that keeps the song from straying into Ronnie James Dio territory.
As with Wild Mountain Nation, Furr operates under a pretty strict desire for brevity. The title track is the longest at a breezy four minutes, which makes the album all the more impressive. This band can pack a lot of music into two to three minutes and they have an uncanny grasp of when a song is over. There are like six guys in this band who play multiple instruments and sing and yet they never seem to produce songs that sound overstuffed (you know, like The Polyphonic Spree). Furr rides in on a summer wind and blows right back out again, with nothing really to skip over, although “Love U” is an outburst of utter weirdness toward the end of the album, it’s still kind of endearing.
An album this well thought-out and flawlessly executed has numerous highlights but a few the tracks stand out among the stand-outs, so to speak. “Furr” is, as already discussed, an excellent tune. “Black River Killer” is a murder ballad that would make Johnny Cash proud and it’s followed with “Not Your Lover,” a piano love song with the simple/sweet refrain of “In my sleep/ I’m not your lover anymore”. The song also features the awesome, “I’m a moon-walking cowboy/ dusty riding/ and I don’t know what’s in store,” which wouldn’t at all be out of place among Yoko Kanno’s songs for Cowboy Bebop. If you don’t know who Yoko Kanno is or what Cowboy Bebop was, I’m actually kind of surprised you know what Bollocks! is. My last favorite (for now – I’ve been listening to this album on a rotation that is only exceeded by Dear Science and the new Hold Steady album) is “War On Machines,” which features the line “I’m gonna catch you by the tail/ and teach you how to live,” and remains awesomely dubious about whether or not Blitzen Trapper is making war on machines in the sense that they are fighting machines (perhaps alongside The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi) or in the sense that they are creating war using machines. Either way, good song.
Furr has the feel of a so-called “breakthrough” album, the kind of thing that might lead more people to Blitzen Trapper; if it’s the right kind of people, that’s all right with me (yeah, I know that’s elitist, but have you read this blog before?). But it might also attract people who like one or two songs, buy a concert ticket, and are completely weirded out at the show. Which, come to think of it, is also all right with me.