Portland sextet Blitzen Trapper has quietly asserted itself as one of the supreme bands of the past decade. One of the few bands out there that can still entice and excite us with great new music, they’ve prepared every new work with excellent care and attention.
Last year’s Furr was their most accessible album to date and even at that, the back-end of the album featured more of Eric Earley’s awesome boisterous vocals. But that album’s cornerstone was its folk-like storytelling and matured songwriting. Stripped and open to the use of acoustic guitars, the band took on a new role and delivered a stirring listen. Now, with the Black River Killer EP, they’ve amassed the cream of the crop off Furr with the title-track and have collected six other songs that were previously only available on CD-Rs through the band’s tours.
This not only caters to devoted fans that weren’t lucky enough to have the band pass by their town but in one genius stroke of strategy, places “Black River Killer” on a mini-album with six other choice cuts. And because of this, it showcases the title track as one of the best songs of the entire decade. This isn’t just another country-tinged song; it’s so much more than that and along with eerie guitars and a slow-burn of a harmony, its sums make up for one remarkable song. The song’s cryptic and disturbing story follows the tale (fictional or not is another story) of a menacing cowboy killer. Its country soul is deep-rooted in Earley’s voice and his attempts to escape his sordid faith. He sings about travelling to Oregon in hopes that it will rid him of the devil “because he works quick, you know it don’t take long.” Ultimately, the river washes him clean, a symbol of both baptism and rebirth—the imagery of light vs. dark, the inescapable battle of good vs. evil and the narrator’s weak will is paramount in all of our lives.
The gauntlet run and expressed on the rest of this EP is an exceptionally strong one. “Going Down” brings back some of the band’s impressive use of electronics. The spacey, atmospherics that sound like starlight and space-travel; the guitars and drums are amped up only to leave the band harmonizing and chanting at the end. “Black Rock” is a sturm und drang that details a despaired darkness with only a minor-arpeggiated guitar to support this gloom. The chorus is shining light with a melody that recalls The Beatles circa-White Album and it provides a calming resolution.
There’s even a pacing ballad with “Shoulder Full of You.” Here, the burden lies on the narrator’s shoulder and how he can’t seem to get her off his mind. A duo of guitars, piano and harmonica are all needed on Earley’s cry of longing, “I miss you, I’ll kiss you.” His lover could simply be on a trip and returning shortly but the conviction that Earley delivers it all in suggests the worst.
Even at 17-minutes long, there’s so much to find and love on this well-sequenced EP. The members of Blitzen Trapper have a lot left in them and they’ve just hit their stride with their last two albums. Black River Killer EP is only further testament to their amazing talents as a band and of the kind of determined soul that prevails against all odds.
“Black River Killer” by Blitzen Trapper