Blitzen Trapper - Biography
Ten years into the 21st Century, with the history of rock and roll now spanning more than half a dozen decades, we could be forgiven for thinking everything has been done in that particular sphere; and we’d probably be right. But Portland’s Blitzen Trapper have figured out how to do it (almost all of it) again in a wonderfully and genuinely intriguing way. Beck and Pavement seem to be the most common comparisons, but it goes back way further that that. Trying to compile an exhaustive list of their breath-taking array of influences is like trying to create a classic rock collage: The Kinks, The Grateful Dead, Thin Lizzy, early Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Gram Parsons and T-Rex, to name a few. Country, blues, Americana, 80s pop, 70s hard rock -- it would make you dizzy if it weren’t so brilliantly executed, and if the Oregon sextet didn’t craft it all into a unique brand of gorgeous, effortless pop.
Formed in 2000, Blitzen Trapper recorded in their Portland home studio and self-released their first three albums. The first one, Blitzen Trapper (2003 Lidkercow) right away exhibits an acoustic, countrified Americana base mixed with a laid-back 60s feel, and they infuse it with their own quirky pop energy. The follow-up, Field Rexx (2004 Lidkercow), gives us a crash course in pop music of the last half a century, with tracks like, “Love I Exclaim!” — a crazed hybrid of The Kinks and ESG. The loungy swirl of “Summer Twin” juxtaposes surprisingly well with the 80s jangle of “Asleep For Days.” Acclaimed by both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, Wild Mountain Nation (2007 Lidkercow) was also listed in Pitchfork’s Best New Music category in June of 2007. Still playfully bandying their influences around and capriciously flitting across genres, the band’s consistency lies in the songwriting, which is unwaveringly strong. And speaking of influences, eclectic (and now near-classic), Americana mainstays, Wilco, spring to mind. But this is, well, more fun.
The band got picked up by Sub Pop Records and released another extravaganza of brilliantly crafted and densely layered songs, Furr (2008 Sub Pop). This acclaimed record made it to made it into Billboard’s Top 200 and was #22 in the Top Indie Albums chart of the that year. On this release, they, themselves, are becoming increasingly classic-sounding, evoking (as usual) The Grateful Dead, with nods to Bob Dylan (“Sleepytime in the Western World”) and Neil Young (“Not Your Lover”). Queen, Badfinger, The Beatles, Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel also rear their heads. The title track, a clever, delightful, acoustic ballad, was featured on two television series (Chuck and Num3rs), and the track was #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s Best Singles of 2008. Arguably, though, the album’s finest moment is the simple, inspired murder ballad, “Black River Killer,” which led to a companion EP of the same title (2009 Sub Pop).
It’s utterly heartening to believe that invention is not dead in rock and roll. Blitzen Trapper wear their influences unashamedly (flagrantly, flamboyantly, even) on their sleeves while managing not to sound overly derivative. All of the decades of pop history are rolling around here, and they miraculously coalesce. Their art is in the songwriting, and their craft is in the alchemy of it: they invoke the past and meld it together, resurrecting it in a brand new light. And their achievement is in the ultimate result: an unmitigated joy.