Wild Mercury Sound

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation

John Mulvey

We've just been playing the excellent forthcoming Kelley Stoltz album to start the week (I'll write about it soon), which reminded me of another Sub Pop album I've liked in the past few weeks.

This is "Wild Mountain Nation", the third - I think - album from a Portland, Oregon band called Blitzen Trapper. I first came across them maybe 18 months ago, when "Field Rexx" turned up in the UK and struck me as being one of the most successful attempts at catching the vibe of Pavement circa "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" that I'd heard in years. Blitzen Trapper had mastered that offhand, rogeuishly bent take on classic rock, particularly the sort of frayed country-rock songs like "Range Life". The keeper was called "Asleep For Years", if I remember right, and I played it to death for a few weeks and promptly forgot about the band.

"Wild Mountain Nation" is a very forceful return, though - a fuller, more confident if no less fractious development of their schtick. There's a whole chunk of Beatlesy powerpop flung into the mix this time (check out "Miss Spiritual Tramp" if you can), but the skronk quotient has been upped, too, so that the opening "Devil's A-Go-Go" has some vaguely Beefheartish cranks to send it off on bloody-minded tangents, while still sticking fairly close to the trail.

The Pavement thing is still pretty pronounced, and the crackly melodic sense marks them out as distinct fellow travellers to Stoltz: "Sci-Fi Kid" is a great little fuzzy pop song, insidious in a hip, self-effacing kind of way. But the band they remind me most of now is one of my favourite groups from that early '90s awkward indie-pop school, also by coincidence on Sub Pop, The Grifters.

The Grifters had a superb, drunken roll to their songs, with a palpable love of the roots music which had informed their southern upbringing shining through the staggers and glitches which their detractors always mistook as incompetence. It's a nightmarish thing to try and articulate - mostly because writing about it makes you look as much of a dick as those hacks who call anything manly and a bit anguished as "Soulful" - but The Grifters were a fine band because they had a loose, slack-assed but infectious "feel" to everything they did.

Blitzen Trapper have that, too. With the benefit of age and a much-expanded record collection, it's easier to see how those shakey bands from the early '90s US underground were wired into an American tradition, not just an indie one: we were playing The Grateful Dead's "Doing That Rag" the other day, and the Reviews Editor mentioned how it sounded exactly like Pavement. Back in the day, we were so busy parsing for Fall references and, I guess, scared of the Dead, that we had no idea.

Now, though, this seems to be the best way of enjoying Blitzen Trapper; as a way of understanding that bands can have confounding, contradictory taste, too.


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