Something that any artist or band strives for is that “thing” that, when you hear it, you know that it’s them. It may be a unique vocal or choice of instruments, it could be something as superficially simple as subject matter of the style of artwork that adorns each release. With Blitzen Trapper, it’s slightly different – it’s the way that their songs walk. There’s something in the phrasing of each of their songs that has a footfall that, whatever else may be going on, sounds just like Blitzen Trapper.
I’m also happy to report that the lovely white vinyl of this, the band’s 7th album, remains unblemished by yours truly which is more than can be said for a record that arrived the previous week. It certainly helps to pay attention when slitting open cellophane shrinkwrapping from a foot-wide piece of sharp cardboard with one’s thumbnail, as my own digit – even a whole week later – still resembles an axolotl with a bemused expression thanks to the mother of all cardboard cuts…
Opening with the playful banjo/clavinet combo of Feel The Chill, there is already a bit of a Kitchen Sink approach to the band’s songcraft here, taking their established style and stretching, tweaking and generally having a skipload of fun with their idiom in order to see what comes out the other side. The result is a coherent collection of oddness that manages to delight and baffle in equal measure.
It’s certainly a lot funkier than previous endeavours with the unashamedly groove-laden Shine On and the angry dance of Neck Tatts, Cadillacs that has a mad drum intro that a mid-period Beastie Boys would gleefully pinch, with a Wonder-punctuated spine running through the main song to interrupt the general funk and banjo mayhem. Even when it gets a bit more folky such as with Thirsty Man, the mandolin joins in by picking a saucier melody than it’s perhaps used to, followed by a Manzarakerian (don’t look it up, it’s not a real word) keyboard joins in to make it all sound that little bit more dangerous. And it’s not a solitary visit to the world of the Doors either; as album highlight Faces Of You takes a similar path through Riders On The Storm‘s desert, a sultry conga and cuica-driven seductive trip that stands out as being the most out-there track in this collection. Side Two’s pairing of Drive On Up and Heart Attack feels slightly more familiar, with Old Grey Whistle Test-ing 70s riffs and Physical Graffiti jam visitations, but even these are toe-tappingly infectious, coming as they do from the cheeky Faces end of rock’s pantheon.
The Trapper’s Country heart remains undiminished though. Even when it all gets weirdly leftfield the images of long roads, big skies, bees and murderous intent remain intact, helped by their handy, early Beck-like Oregon Geography which puts everything in the strange otherworld that passes for context on VII. And ending with the joyously hymnal Don’t Be A Stranger, Blitzen trapper wander off into the sunset and back into familiar territory with that same, lovely old stroll.
In casting their net perhaps wider than usual, Blitzen Trapper have also distilled their own heady essence to the extent that they could pretty much head off in any direction they choose and it would always remain truly themselves, thanks to their rock-solid core and that unique gait of theirs. VII is a record that sets out to entertain with every track, and it succeeds every time.