Music News

Blitzen Trapper catches buzz through the fuzz

Drum kits crash and explode; uncontrollable feedback erupts; random, screeching wraiths arrive and disappear with an equal lack of warning; relaxed fits of laughter compete with measured, stentorian cable-news reportage. Understandably, Eric Earley can't quite hear me, and I'm having just as much trouble understanding him. "You're breaking up. I'm catching every third word or so," the Blitzen Trapper frontman says. It's an evening in late January, and Earley's speaking via cell phone from the band's practice space, where the sextet's gearing up for a spring tour, his laconic mien transmitted cross-country with a hurricane of noise pollution in tow. Our signals are twisted, jammed, and fricasseed, making communication next to impossible.

Blitzen Trapper's output is decidedly more palatable than the sonic detritus showering our conversation: Imagine Pavement's sprawling Wowee Zowee crossed with an Eagles greatest-hits collection, and a CD-R compilation of Elephant 6 Collective highlights. On 2007's dynamite, self-released Wild Mountain Nation, country jousts with art rock, Brit invasion pop do-si-dos with techno, and bluegrass flirts with psychedelia; all the while, songwriter/lyricist Earley is spinning impressionist, fantastical vocal yarns that complement the Super Glue-y riffage he's cooked up. Given the stylistic inbreeding, his day-to-day disc rotation comes as a bit of a surprise.

"I have old favorites that I always listen to — a lot of old country music, like Merle Haggard, a lot of Sonic Youth, Pavement, and punk stuff from my younger days," he says. "In high school, Sonic Youth was my favorite band. [BT keyboardist] Drew Laughery and I saw them, like, eight times! These days, I'm more into songwriting stuff — [Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore's] Trees Outside the Academy was really engaging."

Formed in the Portland area at the beginning of the millennium, Blitzen Trapper built a solid rep through tours, boisterously catchy compilation singles, and a pair of self-released albums (2003's Blitzen Trapper and 2004's Field Rexx) before breaking out of the indie-rock farm-team field with Nation's jerky schizo-sprawl of odes to sci-fi kids, hillbilly hoedowns, sunny indie rock, and twangy back-to-nature anthems. Even before signing a label contract last year, the band was self-sustaining enough that its members haven't worked day jobs for three years.

Given all that — and the fact that Earley's been obsessing over African music lately — the group's Sub Pop debut could be as merrily catchy and twisted as its back catalog or it could veer off in a totally different direction.

Earley's comments on the as-yet-unnamed new album are tantalizingly evasive: "It's pretty much done; we recorded 35 songs. It'll probably come out in another three to four months — it depends on what Sub Pop wants to do. It'll probably be like Nation, but it's gonna be different — a little more under control. But at the same time, I think it covers a little more ground in terms of genre and scope."

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Ray Cummings