Blitzen Trapper are a band who spent a sizable fraction of their early career in obscurity. Even when they began to garner critical acclaim in the mid-to-late 2000’s, they still remained relatively obscure. For a time, their brand of western tinged folk-rock felt genuine and comfortable while not overly relying on nods to influential artists (although sometimes singer Eric Earley lays down the Bob Dylan pretty thick). They had a way of making original rocking riffs in folk-rock jams and then turning around and laying down acoustic numbers with the prettiest melodies, and following it up with a song comprised largely of noise, fuzzy guitar and no lyrics, all while maintaining a coherent album. At the turn of the decade something changed; the music Blitzen Trapper was releasing, by and large, actually deserved to remain obscure. However despite a string of forgettable albums, they’ve still managed to show flashes, enough to give fans hope of an eventual return to form. Here’s a guide through Blitzen Trappers catalog, through their highs and lows; key songs are in order of how ‘key’ they are.
Blitzen Trapper (2003)
Blitzen Trapper’s debut, like many bands’, finds them at the early stage of forming an identity. Western themes are prevalent and the types of riffery and acoustic folk numbers that would become their staple are in their infancy, yet remarkably solid. Tunes such as “Reno” and “Texaco” are the kinds of acoustic western-themed folk tunes one could argue would be better realized on later albums, but surely not by much. For those who enjoy getting an idea of how a band has evolved, this album is a good place to start so long as you skip “Donkie Boy”.
Key songs: “Texaco”, “Ansel & Emily DeSader”, “Reno”, “All Girl Team”
Field Rexx (2004)
In 2010, while at a Blitzen Trapper show, I met a guy who said he had been following the band since 2003 and had seen them dozens of times (yes, apparently just about any band can have fans that devoted). He told me Field Rexx was his favorite BT album, and to this day I cannot figure out why. It’s not a bad album by any means, it actually has a couple of their best songs (“Asleep for Days” and “Dreamers & Giants”), but really the album is just so weird. It’s choppy, it features a large amount of bizarre keyboard sounds and intrusive fuzzy static noise, and just an overall too-high song-to-anti-song ratio. Maybe it just is an album only a true die-hard fan, like that guy I met, could love. As far as this guide is concerned, keep to the key songs, this album should only be considered essential listening if you find yourself becoming a big time fan.
Key songs: “Asleep for Days”, “Dreamers & Giants”
Wild Mountain Nation (2007)
After Field Rexx, Blitzen Trapper took a little time off. When they returned, they brought Wild Mountain Nation, arguably their best album, with them. Wild Mountain Nation leaves behind almost all the weirdness of Field Rexx while improving on almost all that was good about Blitzen Trapper. The rock tunes are as good as the band ever made, “Devil’s A-Go-Go” kicks off the album with a bang, and “Murder Babe” might be their best song. “Wild Mountain Nation” and “Country Caravan” showed that the group had honed their western-folky skills as well, and that Eric Earley had developed into a writer of catchy melodies. All this and they still could write pretty tunes, as evidenced by “Futures & Folly”. Nation gained much deserved critical acclaim and was the moment when BT first sort of poked their heads out of obscurity. This album is impressive musically, interesting lyrically, diverse in its song-writing and just fun; this is where newcomers should start if they want to hear the band at their best.
Key songs: “Murder Babe”, “Futures & Folly”, “Wild Mountain Nation”, “Country Caravan”, “Sci-Fi Kid”
Blitzen Trapper certainly had a lot of momentum coming from Wild Mountain Nation, and carried it straight through into their fourth and most popular album Furr. If you’re only vaguely familiar with BT, I’d venture a guess that it’s because you’ve heard the title track “Furr,” far and away their most popular song. But this album is popular for good reason: it is excellent. Although the great riffs of Nation are largely absent, they’ve been replaced with the best acoustic folk numbers, prettiest melodies, and most vivid lyrics the group had made to date. The sorts of western themes laid out on Blitzen Trapper and improved upon on Nation are truly realized on Furr (see “Black River Killer” and “Stolen Shoes & a Rifle”). But there is also a remarkable diversity on this record. Aside from the acoustic folk you also get tunes like the almost funky and undeniably catchy “Saturday Nite”, where Earley demands that you “Jump down, turn around, shake it on a Saturday night” before breaking into a simply infectious “Ooh ooh ooh, sha-na-na-na-na” bridge. Even the sort of fuzzy noise the band loved to use on past records is better utilized on Furr, making a brief appearance on “Echo/Always on/Easy con”. Here, it’s more controlled and purposeful and generally feels more appropriate. Furr is a perfect place to begin your BT experience. Is it better than Wild Mountain Nation? No. Maybe. I don’t know. But it is essential listening.
Key songs: “Furr”, “Black River Killer”, “God & Suicide”, “Saturday Nite”, “Sleepy Time in the Western World”
Destroyer of the Void (2010)
Ah, now we begin our descent into… Blitzen Trapper’s descent. After back-to-back fantastic albums, expectations were pretty high for BT’s fifth album and it was a pretty big letdown. I’m not sure, but I think borrowing from classic rock anthems so much that you have the phrases ‘wayward son’ and ‘like a rolling stone’ in the same line of the same song counts as ‘shameless’. That’s pretty much what the album offers. Much of it feels like shameless borrowing either from others or from themselves, and BT doesn’t really go anywhere on it. The western themes are still here, but they’re obvious now, not as genuine as they were. Perhaps worst of all, Void is where the serious deterioration in the quality of both the lyrics and the melodies that plague BT’s future albums emerges. Aside from a handful of bright spots there’s just not much here.
Key songs: “Dragon’s Song”, “Below the Hurricane”
American Goldwing (2011)
As high as expectations were following Furr, suffice it to say that it was pretty much the opposite following Void. Given these low expectations, Blitzen Trapper’s sixth album American Goldwing was actually not that disappointing. Sure, it doesn’t even remotely compare to Furr or Nation; sure, it’s a largely pointless exercise of (again) shameless Americana, but it’s not as bad as Void and that’s really what’s good about it. Goldwing is kind of a grower. Where Void was obvious Goldwing is, well, actually still pretty obvious, but it feels like BT was more comfortable operating in that obviousness so the music comes across just a little better. Still, it’s not a particularly great album, and song-to-song it is very hit-or-miss.
Key songs: “Astronaut”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “Might Find it Cheap”
So, we’ve arrived at VII, Blitzen Trapper’s most recent effort. Frankly, I don’t have much to say about this album. It’s by far their worst album and I’d rather leave it at that then delve into a rant about all the ways it’s awful. In brief, it is bereft of melody and the songs sound alike with no standouts. I put “Oregon Geography” as a key track not because it’s particularly good, but mostly because it’s interesting (and also partly because I had to pick something). However, the album’s one redeeming quality is that it’s not the same shameless, unoriginal Americana of the last two albums. Also, Marty Marquis’ keyboard is featured more than it had been since Field Rexx, and since that album led to Wild Mountain Nation and Furr, perhaps BT is about to find themselves again. We can only hope.
Key songs: “Oregon Geography”