Since their self-titled debut in 2003, the members of Portland’s Blitzen Trapper have veered wildly with every new release. Those expecting Destroyer of the Void to be Furr, Part Two — Furr being their dusty, Americana-flecked 2008 breakout — don’t know this band. They are one of the more stylistically adventurous groups working today; alt-country, folk, glam, prog, funk, and indie pop all figure into their sound. Void almost works as a career summation of their genre-roulette tendencies, but it suffers under its own weight and too often becomes a game of “spot the influence.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than the album’s opening cut, “Destroyer of the Void.” It’s the obvious elephant in the room: six minutes of rock-opera bombast, combining complex multipart harmonies with soft piano codas before the song opens up into full-on guitar shredding. It’s certainly eyebrow-raising, but a memorable hook would have been nice. For all its bluster, it’s pretty forgettable.
All of the band’s knottiest songwriting tendencies are on immediate display for much of Void’s first half, inducing a kind of aural whiplash. Yet album midpoint “Heaven And Earth” signals a welcome shift into the strong later tracks. With lead singer Eric Earley alone on piano save for an expert string section, “Heaven” is not just the album’s obvious gem but a career standout. Oftentimes piano ballads can be throwaway excuses for a solo spotlight, but Earley makes it feel essential, sounding like the wounded counterpoint to Furr’s “Not Your Lover.”
Following this heaviness is the slow-burning “Dragon’s Lair,” an exercise in smoky psych-rock that’s perfectly sequenced to play off the melancholy of “Heaven.” Blitzen Trapper are at their best on countrified head-nodders like “Evening Star” and “Sadie,” two songs that allow Earley to weave his novelistic stories around driving backbeats that mimic his laconic delivery. Nowhere is this storytelling more fully realized than on the classic-sounding folk strummer “The Tree,” a duet featuring fellow Portlander Alela Diane.
Despite these late highlights, Void still overly employs Blitzen Trapper’s biggest negative: inconsistency. They have a great album lurking somewhere in them, but for now they’re settling for a couple of good songs mixed in with their 1970s fetishism. Destroyer of the Void’s unbridled creativity certainly has something for everyone, but it’s not quite a substantial enough offering.