The Portland, Oregon based indie-folk band Blitzen Trapper has released their fifth album, Destroyer of the Void. This impressively eclectic and intelligently constructed compilation of songs straddles the decades with its heart buried in the soil of 1967 Monterey and its head wrapped in the chaos of the 2000’s.
Fleet Foxes’ harmonized, hymn-like songs immediately came to mind during the first song “Destroyer of the Void”, a multi-layered and intentionally segmented track. It suggested the tendencies of the rest of the album, introducing a variety of instruments and effects that appear in later tracks: piano, experimental electric and acoustic guitars, voice overs, static, and mid-song tempo changes.
In multiple songs the guitar’s abruptly, though seamlessly, move from a heavier metallic sound to jangling and eventually on to more experimental droning combine with stifles and swells that contribute to the dynamic influxes of the bass and vocal pitches. In most instances it works to keep the listener engaged, like in the poppy track “Laughing Lover.” Trapper brought in a more alternative element with “Love and Hate”, a harder sounding track with more electric guitar and a less philosophical undertone. Another impressive guitar performance throughout “Below the Hurricane”, makes this track the highlight of this album with elaborate picking reflective of – though more sophisticated than – Harry Chapin’s introduction to “Cats in the Cradle”.The one place that the guitar accompaniment sounds out of place is in the jaunty track “Lover Leave Me Drowning”; towards the end there is a section of electric power chords in addition to acoustic riffs that is less than cohesive.
The other prominent instrument used throughout Destroyer of the Void is a piano played in the first track and soon after in “Below the Hurricane.” The pianist demands attention in “Heaven and Earth”, bearing an undeniable similarity to Paul McCartney’s ballad-like playing style, very chord heavy and swelling. It contributes to the simple but sturdy background instrumentals that compliment Trapper’s cleverly reflective lyrics.
Perhaps the most striking resemblance this album has to any artist is none-other than the storytelling, acoustic folk style of Bob Dylan. The lead singer/songwriter for Trapper, Eric Earley, has a smokey voice and writing style in “The Man Who Would Speak True.” In “The Tailor” one can not help but conjure musical clips of Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue”. And of course, there is the delightfully predictable appearance of a blues harmonica. In “The Tree” featuring Alela Diane, I could almost see Dylan and Joan Biaz playing together. There is the same juxtaposition of that gruff, earthy voice with the more angelic, feminine vocal harmonization. The impressive element that Blitzen Trapper was able to pull off that validates their worthiness of such a comparison is their ability to rhyme without sounding overly sing song-y or callow.
What made this album so engaging and memorable is the diversity of the lyrical, instrumental, and thematic styles through out, obviously drawing from a range of influences; however, this also contributed to the albums weakness. After listening to its entirety and letting it’s multifaceted sounds sink in, there seems to be some confusion over the direction of the band. Trapper shows their audience what they are musically capable of in a variety of genres instead of concentrating on what they want this album to portray or stand for. There is nothing wrong with showing musical diversity but there is also something to be said (or more to be said) for bands who can produce multiple albums with distinct tendencies and purposes as opposed to each album containing a little bit of everything.
By Lacey Smalldon