Blitzen Trapper - Furr: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

by Tim Sentz Rating:8 Release Date:2018-09-14
Blitzen Trapper - Furr: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Blitzen Trapper - Furr: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Alternative country never had its day in the spotlight. For every Wilco and Drive-by Truckers, there are acts like Gun Outfit who have churned out reliable material for a decade and yet still have issues plotting out a tour. While it’s still an oversaturated genre, with hundreds of mimicking acts, rarely decipherable from one to the next, the genre still houses some memorable acts with good to great albums nestled in.

Blitzen Trapper celebrate the 10th anniversary of their best album Furr this month. Initially the follow-up to their critical favorite Wild Mountain Nation, Furr eclipsed its predecessor due to the tight songwriting, and most importantly the inviting sound. The record opens with a jangle-pop laced foot stomper in “Sleepytime in the Western World,” and even an awkward title like that, it kicks things off the proper way. The Portland based band have yet to replicate this tightness. And while they’ve released modest material since, Furr is bursting with character. It almost doesn’t feel like a country album, since the label can be a nail in the coffin for some bands.

“Gold for Bread” doesn’t even hold back after the high from the opening track, Trapper just keep pressing. Even if the lyrical content may be strange – referring to midgets and monkeys – it’s outlaw country fury is brisk yet powerful. Things calm down with their most popular song, title track “Furr” is a slow tempo, with just acoustic guitar strumming while lead singer Eric Earley harmonizes and recalls his youth before harmonica and drums move us along on his journey.

So, what is it that makes Furr feels so much more dynamic than the rest of their catalogue? Furr was the start of Blitzen Trapper’s partnership with iconic label Sub Pop, and the production is smoother than the rest of their work. “God & Suicide” predates the Lumineers and Mumford with its hand clapping, get-up-and-stomp attitude coupled with “ooohs.” Earley has stated that the album reflects a forgotten city in Portland, one that was filled with horror and dismay from drugs and crime. Perhaps a response to those times, rather than an homage, Furr is breakneck speed folk country pop, it’s never dull, and has zero filler. Even “Saturday Nite” with its saloon inspired piano and organs feel like a necessary detour after all the foot stomping from earlier.

Furr works on so many levels, calling upon multiple genres and giving each one a center stage. But it never feels forced or even like a sloppy experiment. “Black River Killer” should have launched Blitzen into the country stratosphere, but it’s darkness didn’t fit in with the Bootin and Scootin and Boogey’n of country radio. “Not Your Lover” is the piano ballad we needed to take a breather with before we get the most un-Furr like track with “Love U” as Earley screeches over an almost punk-like guitar. It’s the most oddball inclusion, but also perfectly fitting after “Not Your Lover.”

The second disc of Furr’s reissue features unreleased cuts, which serve as a reminder that a decade ago the band could write more accessible tracks that would fit in a playlist with Cross Canadian Ragweed. Their inclusion here is a nice touch, and it was a good call to not include these on the original album release despite them all being decent tracks. “War is Placebo” feels like latter-day Wilco which would make sense as 2008 was mid-decline for them; “Simple Tree” has B-side written all over it, a lot of the same rhythm of Furr tracks but without a memorable hook. It just feels a bit lost but not a bad song.

“Heroes of Doubt” is the best of the bunch and would have made sense on Furr due to its reflective nature. Earley has a knack for hook writing, and “Heroes of Doubt” showcases this with his tender vocals. “Ballad of Bird Love” is basically “Sleepytime in the Western World” but with different lyrics and is instantly forgettable. The disc ends with two live versions at KCRW – “God & Suicide” and “Furr” – arguably the two best songs Blitzen Trapper ever wrote. The live renditions don’t add anything or hurt anything, their presence is just padding and fill on the disc. Nothing bad, maybe nice to have, but entirely unnecessary as neither captures the excitement of a live setting.

Blitzen Trapper saw the most success of their career with Furr, and ten years later they still tour and release albums, some good, some bad. But the magic they captured on Furr has yet to be replicated. For what it’s worth, Furr stands as one of the strongest examples of alternative country and folk-pop merged smoothly and even a decade later is still a joy to listen to.

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