Portland based band Blitzen Trapper have been on my radar since the 2007 release of their third album, Wild Mountain Nation. That record was chock full of Blitzen Trapper’s revisioning of southern hippy rock, and it contained two great sing along singles in the title track and “Country Caravan,” although the latter wandered dangerously close to Eagles territory. Those two songs were incredibly catchy and accessible, and they helped to temper some of the more experimental pieces on the album, such as opener “Devil’s a-Go-Go,” which sounded like someone took a razor blade to it, and the mostly instrumental “Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem,” among many others. The mix of catchy, familiar-sounding hooks and stop/start time signature tomfoolery created an unsettling but overall highly satisfying record.
Apparently, somebody in the band thought it would be a better idea to stick to the catchy and toss out the experimenting for their latest record, Furr. The result is largely disappointing. Without the manic jumpiness and where-will-they-go-next unpredictability of their previous record, all that’s left is pretty much a hippy dippy rolling out of various country and classic rock riffs that we’ve heard a million times before. As mentioned above, we’re venturing into Eagles territory here, and who wants to go there?
From the very onset, the name of the game for Furr appears to be “Who Can We Sound Like Now?” Opening track “Sleepytime in the Western World” immediately drops almost the exact the same organ riff heard at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street.” Next up is “Gold For Bread,” which sounds like a lesser Tom Petty castoff. The acoustic sparseness of the title track “Furr” wanders back into Dylan territory. “Fire & Fast Bullets” steps a little more into the present, passably aping a rock tune from Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” I could keep going, but I’m sure I’ve made my point.
I think I’m being a bit too harsh on this record, but it just seems like such a step backwards from their previous release. Rather than expand their sound and continue down the path of deconstructing southern hippy rock, they’ve decided to just make a straightforward hippy rock record, chock full of so many Skynnyrd/Allman Bros. riffs that they all begin to bleed together after a while. Still, there are times when the songs work, such as the disturbing murder ballad “Black River Killer,” that is if you can ignore the similarity to Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” I guess what irks me most about this release is how familiar it all sounds. On Wild Mountain Nation, I was hearing familiar sounds presented in a disjointed and almost entirely unfamiliar way. On Furr, I’m hearing sounds I’ve heard before presented in ways I’ve heard before, and better.