Popkin’s Corner: Blitzen Trapper

Written by June 11th, 2010 at 7:00 am

Back when I was busy tearing up the Seattle youth music scene in my flannel shirt and ripped jeans, there were three questions that I would always get asked. Who are your influences? What does your band sound like? And what shampoo do you use to get your hair to have that much bounce?

While I always had an answer for the last question—no hair product can give you luscious locks like these—the first two always struck me as somewhat pointless, mostly because whatever answer you gave, you usually came across like a pretentious jerk. My influences? Well, let me list three of the most famous artists of all time that my band doesn’t really sound anything like—Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd—and then add a few more obscure artists to give myself some indie cred—Alex Chilton, Bad Finger—and then top it off with the mandatory inclusion of at least one rap group—Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde etc.

As for my sound? Well, take early U2 but mix it with Kirk Hammett’s guitar playing, but only from the breakdown in “Master of Puppets,” and then imagine all of that being backed by Mark Knopfler’s riff from “Sultans of Swing.” That’s track three on our new album, “What Morrissey Would Sound Like If He Wasn’t So Bad With The Ladies.”

See what I mean? Comparing yourself to other established bands is never going to be enough. So let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Blitzen Trapper’s new album, Destroyer of the Void, sounds like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Yes, it sounds like a poor man’s White Album. Yes, lead singer and primary songwriter Eric Earley occasionally gets nasally with his storytelling lyrics just like Bob Dylan. You’re going to hear about this in pretty much whatever review of this album you read.

But here’s the thing. Somewhere in the process of making all those comparisons, we’re forgetting that a poor man’s White Album is still pretty good fare, and more importantly, that while Destroyer of the Void does sound like all of the above, it also has a lot of its own mojo going on.

The evidence is all over the album. Standout track “Laughing Lover,” with its galloping beat and funk-style guitar breaks, gives a bit of a new twist to the familiar formula of vocal harmonies over piano blasts. “Destroyer of the Void” is the band’s attempt at an opening suite and clocks in at over six minutes, running the gambit from crooning angelic vocals to a weird sample of a public service announcement to some gritty stop-and-start guitar.

It’s not like Blitzen Trapper doesn’t understand what sort of music they’re playing. “Evening Star” even sports the self-aware lyrics, “You need some stonewashed jeans/And a time machine/To take you back.” And on the closing track, “Sadie,” which may be the most derivative song on the album in all its tambourine-shaking glory, Easley sings, “I’m left here with nothing but this cheap love song.”

Well, come on now, Blitzen Trapper! Enough with the self-deprecation. I’m trying to help you out over here. At the very least, a listen to Destroyer of the Void will remind you why you fell in love with all those classic albums it evokes in the first place.

Who knows? It might even get you to fire up the turntable and blow the dust off that old vinyl copy of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Or better yet, you might end up singing along with the title track from CSNY’s Déjà Vu—a very fitting lyric considering the occasion. We have all been here before, indeed.

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