There’s something far worse about a great band making an unmemorable record as opposed to a bad one. Because a bad one often results from sweeping experimentalism, or personal issues in an artist’s life that carries over into the music in a sloppy way. And it’s remembered, sometimes for just being so lousy, or maybe divisive within the artist’s fan base. An unmemorable one is simply that, unmemorable.
2010’s Destroyer of the Void was unmemorable. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not worth committing to memory. I think it was out of my mp3 collection within a couple months. Try as I could to recreate the absolute magic of their previous album, and first Sub Pop record, Furr, Void offered bland, drawn-out songwriting with very few benchmarks or eyebrow-raisers. Now, only a year later, Blitzen Trapper have a new set of songs, and this time around they’ve kept things brief, accessible, and a lot more fun.
American Goldwing bursts out of the gates with “Might Find It Cheap”, with a blast of distortion and chugging guitars underneath BT’s trademark acoustic riffs and jagged chord progressions. This song is a massive breath of fresh air, and sets the listener’s stage pretty nicely for the rest of the album. Goldwing isn’t here to take too many chances or mess around, but rock-n-rolling is just fine. Most of the album’s songs carry this mantra of having fun and keeping things loose: “Fletcher” is a Tom Petty mountain-rock cautionary tale, “Your Crying Eyes” injects a little old school R&B into an obsessive relationship, and the title track is a mini-southern rock tale of leaving home and finding an identity.
When Goldwing finally does pull back, the results are just as enjoyable. “Taking It Easy Too Long”, probably the best song on the album, is a gorgeous little slide guitar and harmonica country ballad about indecisiveness and waiting. “Stranger In A Strange Land” follows suit subbing a piano for the slide guitar. There’s hardly a song on the album that doesn’t have something to like. BT are at their best telling stories of degenerates, murderers, and lost souls as exaggerated and timeless as their specific brand of old west rock and mountain folk music. They borrow from everyone from Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie to Led Zeppelin but the sound is distinctly theirs.
Blitzen Trapper have been around for a while, and the sound they’ve cultivated is rich and mature. Many of the same elements that made Furr such an instant classic are here, but they’re more subtle and at ease. This record feels like a band who’s comfortable with who they are, and unafraid to write songs that reflect it.