Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blitzen Trapper - Furr

Did you ever just start getting records by a band and then after you have a few get around to reading critical reviews of those records?  That's kind of how it was when I got into Blitzen Trapper.  I would look at their records and wonder what the hell they were about.  You pretty much can't tell by the covers or the titles. They could be anything from a heavy metal band to a folk rock duo.  So I didn't buy anything for awhile, and then one day I was flipping through records and I think I had enough for a few records, so I took a chance on this album, Furr.  I think I promptly took it home and loved a few of the other records I bought and really didn't even listen to Blitzen Trapper.  Then one day I was talking to a customer and he was asking me what new bands I was liking, and I was asking the same of him.  I think I had been really digging Deer Tick, and this guy said he had seen a little of them on the internet and they kind of reminded him of Blitzen Trapper. Sort of.  Deer Tick was newer and didn't have as many records out, but this guys said I should check out Furr.

Well, I got home and looked and that was the Blitzen Trapper album I had bought and kind of neglected.  I remembered thinking, "Hmmm...this is pretty good" while I listened to it, but it ended up getting filed away before I really got into it.  That happens sometimes.  I had a Replacements CD while the band was still a functioning outfit and I just really never got around to listening to it until they broke up (D'oh!).  So I decided I'd go home and give Furr another shot.  It didn't come with a download card, so it didn't have the luxury of popping up now and then in my mp3 player, so it was kind of like listening to a record I sort of knew.  It ended up like being a trip to the record store with just like fifteen bucks on me, where I just buy one album and then really spend some time listening to it.

Which is what I should have done the first time, because it turns out I really like Furr, and I really like Blitzen Trapper a lot.  They're one of those bands that critics say are too derivative sometimes, but I really don't care if God & Suicide sounds kind of like a New Pornographers song, because it's a really great song.  I don't care if some critic thinks they sound like they're emulating a more modern Bob Dylan sound because I don't hear it, and I wouldn't care if I did.  I just like the way Eric Earley sings and I like how the musicians seem to be able to use hip hop beats when they want, but they can mix in a banjo here and there or remind me of an epic old 10cc song sometimes.  So sure, you can hear their influences, but they do such a nice job of mixing them all together that it comes out sounding like Blitzen Trapper to me.

It kicks off with Sleepy Time in the Western World, which is the kind of quirky song with great vocal harmonies that 10cc used to come up with once in awhile.  It's just not the same, though.  It just sounds more like 2008 than 1978, and that's good, isn't it?  The title track is like one of those old acoustic songs that made a nice break in an album, but for an entire career?  Not for me, anyway.  I like those kinds of songs in small doses, and that's what Blitzen Trapper does with this little story about being raised by wolves.  Yeah, it's weird but it's really cool.

So Blitzen Trapper is one of those bands that I think is really great, and to the people my age that haven't heard any good new music since 1982 or whatever arbitrary date they've chosen, I'm glad I'll be listening to this album for decades to come.  I'd be really bummed out if I had missed out on a song like Black River Killer.  These guys are just a fun band to listen to, and when people have been over I've put them on when no one was paying attention and had more than one person ask who they were because they liked it.  That's not the whole reason we all listen to music, but it's really nice when someone else actually notices that you don't just listen to music because no one else has ever heard it.  I hate hearing that, because it's not the point at all.  I don't listen to music because no one's ever heard it, or because everyone's heard it.  I listen to what I like, and I really like Blitzen Trapper.

So my record is probably four years old or so, but I bought it brand new and it's only seen a pretty decent turntable so it's in great shape.  Sub Pop made it nice and flat, and the fact that I'm not a sixteen year old with fifty records and nothing but time to kill seems to have helped insure that my record is in excellent condition.  I think I'd like this one in the car, so I really should rip it to an mp3 some time.

Toadies - Rubberneck

OK, number one, I'm too old for Toadies.  In 1994 I was 32 and these guys were a big deal to the teenagers that were a little too young for Nirvana.  Hell, I had a job making magazines and worked third shift back then.  Plus a shitload of overtime because I had two kids, one just about the right age for Toadies music.  By just about I mean that I bought the CD Rubberneck and he listened to it a lot.  One thing I remember about 1994 is that I was really mostly listening to The Stones in my house, but FM radio hadn't quite gone to pure shit yet, and they played Toadies on popular radio (Possum Kingdom) and they also played them on college radio (Mr. Love, I Burn, Tyler).  So they were one of the rare bands that could maintain a semblance of cool while hitting the charts pretty hard.

Now the only song most people know by Toadies is Possum Kingdom, which I've heard called a million different things, like Make Up Your Mind or Behind the Boathouse.  I even argued with a guy at work all night once about it being called Possum Kingdom (I was a certifiably old dude on third shift, so no way could I know new music) when he swore it was called My Dark Secret.  Actually I kind of think that would have been a better title, but I had to go bring in the CD to get him to shut up.  I remember that kind of was a pain in the ass, because it meant I had to remember to bring it in to work to show him as I certainly didn't have a CD player in my car.  I think I had my '62 Comet back then, which meant I had a plastic plate where a radio could go.  Wanted to hear music in there?  Then you sang or listened to me sing!  I do remember the kid I was arguing with most of the night didn't bother to come back after I remembered to bring in the CD so I could show him what a D-Bag he was for questioning my awesome Rock N Roll trivia ability.  Oh well, we probably just argued music all night without the kid anyway.  I loved that about that job - we talked about music pretty much exclusively, and it was pretty mindless so we could talk a lot.

What I like about Toadies is that they're an aggressive band.  Todd Lewis' vocals fit the music perfectly.  He's got a lot of power and he has a good screaming talent.  Some singers just sound like Fay Wray when they need to scream (see almost every metal band after Judas Priest became popular), especially on the Hard Rock side of things.  I know a lot of people seemed to think Toadies were a Grunge band, but they usually played too fast for that scene, if you ask me.  I know Possum Kingdom was kind of reminiscent of The Pixies, but Toadies didn't live in that Loud-Soft-Loud realm all that often.  Usually they were just Loud.  Mr. Love is lyrically really basic, but damn, the guitars and killer drums and bass (along with Todd's excellent screaming ability) just always hit home for me.  I bet I've played this song twice in a row as much as almost any other song I have.

Maybe 1994 was nearly the end times for college radio to play songs on commercially successful albums.  I can remember going out to lunch at 3:30 AM and hearing Possum Kingdom on WMMS, which was probably followed by some ass sucking sounds from Collective Soul or 90's balladeering Aerosmith.  So we'd change the station to one of the low numbers and hear I Come From the Water or the really twisted and fucked up Tyler.  Boy that was one of those songs I used to hope the kids wouldn't ask about, because it's a sick tale of rape wrapped up in some really catchy and well done music.  I always tried to look at it like a bad horror movie.  I liked that the line between popular and underground was still so close back then, though.  I think it gave people more to have in common.

Well, Rubberneck just got reissued for its 20th Anniversary, and this is the first US vinyl release.  There is a European release on MOV, but I've heard it's kind of a grey market deal.  I'd get the US version anyway, because it's about fifteen dollars less and it's not exactly an audiophile release anyway.  It's a mostly midrange affair with nothing much happening in the higher frequencies.  What I was most impressed with is that the record is dead quiet (a lot of 180 gram records aren't these days) and I really love the stereo separation on it.  You get heavy guitar riffing out of the right channel and screaming and wailing out of the left.  It sounds like you're in the room with the band, and it's really hard to not keep turning it up.  So obviously since it's such a new reissue my record is in perfect shape.  It comes with a download card, made of plastic which is good for the bonus tracks that aren't on the record.  At first I was gonna be bummed about that, but I think everyone that wants this probably has a CD from around 1994 they ripped to mp3 a long time ago.  So all in all, I think it's a great package of a record most people my age really never heard.  Which is fine with me, because I still love it.