Why not, I say. Let it bleed and forget the disturbing dreams of bees and collapse, navigating the wrecked shell of the metropolis and finding in the rubble a ragged T-shirt that fits perfectly. —From the tour diary of Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley
Since Blitzen Trapper hit the road a few weeks ago, lead singer and guitarist Eric Earley has been keeping a tour diary, peppered with Kerouackian ponderings, paeans to Nebraska thunderstorms, and homilies about the hospitality of local folk. Earley's writing is as unclassifiable as the Portland avant-country collective's music, a bracing compendium of styles ranging from gentle CSN&Y–tinged folk to Sonic Youth noise explosions. Their newest album, Wild Mountain Nation, is a full-blown rallying cry, initiating the masses into their world of passionate eclecticism and second-natured strangeness.
The first rough-hewn riff on the opening track, "Devil's A-Go-Go," portends an album's worth of blistering guitar licks, off-kilter hooks, and chaotic breakdowns that somehow regain their balance just at the moment of disintegration. The six-member "clan," as they like to call themselves, changes directions immediately, however, moving toward a warm country rock sound with the album's title track. "Come out from the world and into my arms, like wind on the water we move," Earley sings over ragged guitars and roadhouse percussion. He's rounding up believers, gathering the tribes into the proposed nation of the album's title, both a rural utopia and a frenetic confederation of freaks and loners.
As the band's third album, Wild Mountain Nation is their most accomplished. Previous incarnations of the Trapper's sound resonate with some of Beck's early work and Westing (By Musket and Sextant)–era Pavement, always with a sweet aftertaste of Gram Parsons and Neil Young. But while the earlier records are sometimes hesitant and meandering, Wild Mountain Nation has a swagger and purpose to it that highlight the band's increasing confidence and vision.
It was the worst show of the tour and yet somehow infinitely precious... bright-green bats start flying like kites in the nite sky. I couldn't keep my shit together, for real.
In all their exuberant musical pastiche, Blitzen Trapper never get too comfortable. Tracks like "Futures & Folly" glory in dappled sunlight, while "Miss Spiritual Tramp" snarls like Iggy Pop in a barroom scuffle with Merle Haggard. Listening to Wild Mountain Nation is like pointing the nose of your beat-up Chevy toward the horizon and taking off with only the music to guide you. Trust us, it says. We'll get you where you need to go. Buy it and you can follow your faith like a glittering vein through the album, making a virtue out of the band's musical wanderings.
There are a few missteps: The churning "Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant's Hem" spirals in on itself to little effect, and the short "Wild Mtn. Jam" fails to recapture the joy and abandon of the album's title track. But the band don't lose their way often, even when departing for parts unknown, as in the futuristic pop of "Sci-Fi Kid," where old-school video-game sounds mingle with the fast and loose guitar work that galvanizes the record's best songs.
The closing moments of Wild Mountain Nation find the band lolling in a prelapsarian Garden of Eden, where fruit ripens and flowers bloom in the soft sun and gentle wind. While Blitzen Trapper enjoy a good electric freak-out as much as anyone, their true passion lies in crafting twangy odes to a bucolic future, in imagining an idyll where willing outcasts break away from the everyday and fall into each others' arms. Behind all the energetic bluster, their Wild Mountain Nation ends up being a rather traditional utopian vision—full of love, light, and lingering sweetness.
My faith in Wild Mountain Nation doesn't flag, however, as a strange dream of freaks, decay, and collapse...
Believe the dream—or not. In his writing, Earley also counsels us to "forget the disturbing dreams of bees and collapse." Contradictory? Not really. In Blitzen Trapper's new world order, the dreaming matters as much as the dream.