Despite front man Eric Earley’s supposed break from touring and writing, it seems Blitzen Trapper never stops releasing material, from 2010’s “Destroyer of the Void”, to their Record Store Day EP earlier this year, the band is the gift that keeps on giving, to the point where my personal catalogue feels empty without new Blitzen Trapper material. Their sometimes bouncy, sometimes experimental, oftentimes gut-wrenching catalogue grows exponentially, both in terms of quantity and quality, with each release.
Coming down from the complex, intricate trippy “Destroyer”, Earley and his band present this time, a collection of some of their most good ol’ straightforward songs since their 2007 debut, “Wild Mountain Nation.”
“American Goldwing” is steeped in traditional American folk tales of transients (the title track), lost love (“Love the Way You walk Away”), and secluded rural landscapes (“My Home Town”). While Blitzen Trapper has never shied away from presenting quirky stories in the past, these ones feel that much more personal and relatable, despite painting a portrait of Americana that is really quite stereotypical. The beauty of a record like this though, is that the personal introspectiveness mixed with the expected oft-told places and characterizations, makes for something that is both surprising and familiar at the same time.
The standout track on this record is “Astronaut”, an almost surrealistic story that aligns most strongly with Blitzen Trapper’s ‘acid folk’ labeling of any of the tracks on this record. Earley’s interlocking wordplay and his ‘voice of you and me’ have never been stronger as he sings, “I’m an astronaut on the shores of this grand illusion/and I’m fallin’ down at the sound of this beating heart…”. It is a near-flawless amalgamation of Earley’s ability to make a great experimental concept record, along with his understated, traditional folk sensibility, and it is an eargasm of a track: this is the moment when you realize a band and all its elements are fully formed and aware of its strengths, weaknesses and capabilities.
Listening to the rollicking “Street Fighting Sun”, I recall a similar track by Ray LaMontagne entitled “Henry Nearly Killed Me”, a mouth harp rocker that spouts out a violent, attacking story as though it were written by a haggard old brakeman. Both of these songs remind me of what I love about records of this “genre”: it is their ability to be hyper-real. To, whilst being completely and unapologetically earnest, demonstrate to me a time, place and culture that has never been a part of my life and makes it come alive for me in a way that is upfront, simplistic but also romanticized and passionate to the point where I long to be a part of it: to see the world through these eyes and experience these landscapes, meet these characters, camp outside and count the stars or sit in the back of a truck bounding and sputtering down a backwoods dirt road.
This is Blitzen Trapper’s strongest album to date.