Saturday, July 26, 2008

Revisited: Blitzen Trapper - Wild Mountain Nation

With the prospect of a new record by the Portland-based Blitzen Trapper - who just took the plunge into the world of the mainstream by signing with (relatively) major-label Sub Pop Records - it would be a good idea to look back at last year's Wild Mountain Nation. I wasn't blogging when I got hold of that record last fall (and probably for good reason - no more than two people show up here), so any ideas of writing about it them were nonexistent.

Pacific Northwest experimentalists Blitzen Trapper walk a very fine line in their 2007 release Wild Mountain Nation. Their songs totter and swerve on the boundary between familiar classic-rock and psychedelic rhythms and wild, uncompromising experimentalism – often within the same 30-second passage. What begins as a coherent song – or a mere resemblance of such – often deconstructs itself into a meterless, tempoless void: the primal ooze out of which the music we today call rock originally emerged. Even when sticking with the familiar, the band coats it – perhaps the Byrds-like guitar on the title track – with layers of lo-fi grit, atonal keyboards, drums beating as if to other rhythms, and guitar noise straight out of the Slanted and Enchanted playbook.

Blitzen Trapper’s blend of ‘90s lo-fi ethic, psychedelic country, and deconstructive art-noise is extremely strange the first time around. The Pavement comparisons that Pitchfork & Company associates with this band don’t exist at first, but inch themselves out more and more each listen. But if you’ve got no choice but to demand a comparison to Pavement, think of how they might have played Range Life if it were on a Slanted and Enchanted that was not made in the shadows of the Fall.

Even though I really liked this record, not everyone is going to warm up to Blitzen Trapper. If you’re unfamiliar with them, Pavement is a good starting point; their debut Slanted and Enchanted is one of the few historically significant records that still sounds exciting - even fifteen years after its 1993 release. Deerhoof’s The Runners Four exists on the same boundary between the familiar and the experimental, and (if you can get over the lead singer) is far more immediately rewarding listening.

Rating: 8.3/10

[edit: That's only 0.2 points away from Pitchfork's verdict of 8.5 on the same record. That is rather scary.]

P.S. If you're interested in the new record, people have been talking about the song "Furr" (also the title of the new record). Try Here (You Ain't No Picasso) to get an MP3. The new track downplays the noisy elements, boasting polished production and an actual coherent song from front to end. The noise elements of the band are downplayed and the Sixties elements really come to the foreground.


Catherine L. said...

Hey Aaron, just thought you ought to know about a band called Love as Laughter that was compared to Pavement (well Northwest rock multiplied by Pavement minus irony) in Rolling Stone magazine. Hope you're doing well. When are you leaving for Carnegie?

Catherine L. said...

Also, do you have any qualms with me telling other people about your blog? I just think your blog deserves more views.

Aaron Leclair said...

Hey Catherine. Never heard of Love as Laughter - I will look into them so long as it's not the Honorary Title fiasco again, lol.

Go ahead and tell people about this blog.

Carnegie Mellon - that's in a little under two weeks' time.


D said...

Hey Aaron!
Love your blog. Very engaging. When was the last time you listened to Oasis? Tooooo Funny!

Aaron Leclair said...

Um, some frat guy gave a sorority girl a Love as Laughter disc.

Or was it the reverse of that? It was quite a while back but it needed to be stated.