Blitzen Trapper - VII
After the surprise boom of success for alt-folk outfits like My Morning Jacket and Fleet Foxes in the latter stages of the noughties', Blitzen Trapper found themselves amid a spate of aspiring artists with the unlikely attention of the majority. In 2008, the group clasped their opportunity by releasing a breakthrough record in Furr. It was an oeuvre that combined beautiful rites of passage with riverside murder, a piece bereft of any cold logic. Though many of the same movement wilted swiftly as the years passed, Blitzen Trapper's heart and depth has kept their petals intact, even if Destroyer of the Void and American Goldwing weren't quite the records they should've been. In 2013, it's time to return to the North West for their new album, VII.
'Feel The Chill' introduces VII with brisk pace. Tin-can drums, itching guitar figures and gratis harmonica; it's texturally transparent, allowing you to separate each element effectively. The song speaks of a late-lover lost in a crash, but the words are stolen from you before you can even consider that. You hear a peripheral banjo, and then the song swings into its successor 'Shine On' seamlessly. It's then that you're worried.
There is a breed of song which pollutes the majority of this album. It's like Blitzen Trapper have converted what were smart, saccharine vignettes on their previous records into the dominant definitions of VII. It's apparent in the release's simple, rhythmical make-up that there's a hip-hop influence; 'Earth (Fever Called Love)', 'Necks, Tatts, Cadillacs'; however the pace and rhythms of the songs are so unvaried that they become vacuous. Yes, it's clearly an LP which aspires to be rhythmically-driven, but through its incessancy it comes across as less rhythmical than their previous work.
Eric Earley has a wonderful voice, and there are glimpses of his dexterous tenor on VII; 'Heart Attack', 'Don't Be A Stranger', but the stylistic choices that they've made for the album incapacitate his abilities. I find it ridiculous that he spends the majority of the record short of breath, scatting - but it goes deeper than that. There's an alarming loss of intensity and depth within the lyrics throughout. "I been driving all night, on the road to nowhere, with the devil's convoy like smoke upon my tracks, And when the morning breaks, I be driving wide awake, 'cause I been running so long can't recall what it means to stay." They're by no means bad, but considering Earley's written some of the most ambitious lyrics of the past decade, it's difficult to believe how shallow the songs are. Whilst he usually stares through the mountain, he can only see its colour and shape throughout VII.
The sun and the moon align for 'Ever Loved Once', a stunning piece about the meeting of two old lovers and a life's burden of guilt. It's a tremendously intense song, which realises the features of the record without wearing them as a prefect badge.
It's important for 'branch-out' records to tread the line between luscious depth and strong clarity, as the desire is impact, but VII is obscenely lopsided. Many of the creative decisions feel knee-jerk, flippant and somewhat gimmicky; we saw it to a lesser extent with the 'prog' elements of Destroyer of the Void and the muscular nature of American Goldwing, but on this record it seems to have strangled the group creatively. Blitzen Trapper have too much profundity to wither and whimper, and I hope VII can become an act of catharsis for Eric to serenade and illustrate on their next release.
Purchase and listen
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Anybody who has heard 2008's critically acclaimed Furr knows that Blitzen Trapper are aren't always your traditional country rock band. When that album was released it was a regular on my ipod, and not particularly comparable to anything else on said ipod. They are one of those bands who have made an album I love, but for whatever reason I have never really pushed on from that and looked further into their back catalogue. [read more]