Like Man Man, another staunchly independent band that travels in music that can only be described as “American,” Blitzen Trapper have found themselves in a precarious situation for a band as eccentric as they are: how to deal with added expectations brought on by signing to a mid-major (in Blitzen’s case, Sub Pop). While Wild Mountain Nation, the band’s third album, benefitted from the fact it sounded so effortless and it came out of nowhere to be a surprise hit in indie circles, the band’s Sub Pop debut, Furr, has an air of familiarity. The genre experiments are somehow less impacting and reasonably predictable, and the effortlessness seems more purposeful.
Furr is something of a holding pattern for Blitzen Trapper, who evolved up to the ecstatic heights of Wild Mountain Nation from a scattershot bluegrass record (2004’s Field Rexx) and a bad folk album (2003’s Blitzen Trapper). Some of the turns here (like the Bob Dylan circa Desire swagger of “Sleepytime in the Western World” and “Stolen Shoes & A Rifle,” and the Band-esque “Not Your Lover”) will be instantly palatable to anyone with a passing recognition of classic rock. But “Black River Killer,” which at first blush seems to be a standard tale of death, quickly reveals itself to be something larger: a morally ambiguous tale about rebirth after a crime. That’s Blitzen Trapper’s biggest asset: making you think you’ve already heard this one before and then altering the formula. The album’s title track does the same; it starts as a somber, lone-vocalist-on-a-street-corner song about aging before slowly but surely rousing up to an ambling shuffler.
Despite the relative familiarity of most of Furr’s tracks, the band members still make time to jump genres with reckless abandon. They try Dandy Warhols-esque power-pop on “Fire and Fast Bullets” and give King Khan a run for his garage-rock money on the rave-up rager “Love U.” “War on Machines” leans with Big Star-like assertiveness, and the three-part “Echo/Always On/ EZ Con” goes through a metamorphosis from a blues ballad to a jazzy instrumental.
The band’s willingness to try whatever the hell they feel like is often what makes them exciting, but at times on Furr you can’t help but feel they’re jumping genres because they know they can. Wild Mountain Nation seemed to emerge more organically as the band were still trying to find out who they wanted to be, and the answer turned out to be a mix of everything. Furr still finds Blitzen Trapper as a band that’s relentlessly restless, just one that’s purposefully that way.