When Blitzen Trapper’s albumWild Mountain Nation came out last year, it garnered a lot of comparisons to Pavement. Or, at the very least, Jason Crock in his Pitchfork review compared it to Wowee Zowee in terms of its casual diversity, and early Pavement, in terms of the album’s lo-fi quality. I don’t bring this up to start a flame war with a colleague (“Wrong, pal!”), but rather to point out that one would have to be an idiot to ignore Pitchfork’s influence. So whether these comparisons (type “Blitzen Trapper” and “Pavement” into a search engine to see) were the result of a lot of people noticing this or the result of Pitchfork’s clout creating a certain attractor (“Oh, I see that now…”) will have to be a matter left up to someone willing to dig through the historical record. My best educated guess leans towards the latter, as listening to Wild Mountain I can’t help but feel that the comparison is idiosyncratic of Crock, or at least a stretch. One should be wary of Pavement comparisons in general anyway, for almost every single statement has come to nothing. Quite often, it merely refers to something lo-fi or something a bit messy or maybe a band that plays kind-of-classic-rocky songs. In any event, Pavement was such a specific intersection of all these strategies that they really do resist most comparisons (in terms of the bands they inspired, at least. Throw on an old Fall album and hear yourself say, “Wait a minute…”). So, if you get past this false-façade of Pavementiness, I think you get a much better picture of what Blitzen Trapper is and where they’re going, and furthermore, one can take the band on its own terms rather than as filtered through a distorting lens.
Furr doesn’t change the trajectory that they’ve been upon, but at the same time refines the strategy they’ve been using. Where it loses some of the diversity, divesting itself of that “lo-fi quality” (which really isn’t even lo-fi in any conventional sense of the term anyway and is just a code word for late-’90s-style indie rock), it makes up for it by concentrating more and more on the ‘70s folk rock pastiches that are really the backbone of their musical style. For every pop keyboard melody or slight casio beat, Furr features 10 standard guitar riffs or ’70s-era folk-rock harmonies. As loathe as I am to deploy the term, it’s actually a rather conventional alt-country style with a few flourishes otherwise than it is anything else. Context is important. Look what happened to Eyes Wide Shut: seen as a thriller, it completely fails all expectations, but seen as a modern noir, it’s actually quite good.
This all being said, I can’t help but feel bored by the entire affair. This is to say, there’s nothing wrong with the album at all. It’s good where it has to be good and it hits the notes it’s supposed to, but other than that it’s tough to find Furr inspiring in any way, especially with such a specifically backwards-looking strategy employed. Of course, not all music is or needs to be some deep intellectual or emotional experience, but even as something purely for fun, it still seems only conceptually half-formed. This isn’t to criticize them as if they should be something else or to say, “Churn out some more ‘lo-fi’ numbers and you’ll have a better album,” but rather to say that there’s just too much music available in 2008 for this to differentiate itself from the mass.