Blitzen Trapper: American Goldwing

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Blitzen Trapper
American Goldwing
(Sub Pop)

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I’ve been rooting for Blitzen Trapper to break big ever since their Sub Pop debut, Furr. Their fourth record overall, Furr is a songwriting clinic. Highlights include the dark gem “Black River Killer” and the deeply moving title track, in which singer/songwriter Eric Earley tells a tale of transformative love, elegantly using the monster-as-outsider motif, including enough metaphysical poetry to make any Dylan fan proud.

Blitzen Trapper’s 2010 follow-up, Destroyer Of The Void, was a spikier affair. Beginning with an unsuccessful attempt at a multi-part suite, it eventually rebounds with the orchestral lament, “Heaven and Earth,” and the eco-ballad, “The Tree.” Earley’s songcraft, as always, is an embarrassment of riches. He deftly moves in a pop direction, managing the neat trick of referencing the solo work of Lennon and McCartney, without resorting to Beatles cliches.

Which brings us to their current release, American Goldwing. What the hell happened? The ragged, folky edges that have defined the group’s sound are beefed up by fuzzed-out power chords. They’ve gone all alpha male, with lyrics like “Old Fletcher’s in the car drinkin’ whiskey from a jar through his teeth,” delivered with attempted toughness. I love the classic rock anthems of Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd as much as the next guy, but half an album’s worth of shit-kicking rockers is way too many for this scruffy bunch of Portlandians.

The remaining half is great, but only good by Blitzen Trapper standards. “Love the Way You Walk Away” conjures up the sepia-toned America of truck stops and endless highways Earley is straining to commune with. “My Home Town” is a simple, banjo-flavored ramble that feels effortless. “Girl In A Coat” is a gorgeous waltz, featuring acoustic guitar, cosmic synths, and lush harmonies.

Co-producer Greg Williams and mixer Tchad Blake have fashioned a fatter, arena-ready sound for the band, but there’s an emotional core missing. It’s a shame if Earley and the boys feel they have to dumb it down to rock bigger stages. The funny thing is, it just might work.

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