Wild Mountain Nation
God I was so bored. I thought life had finally petered out like it always threatened it would and the lid would be closed on 2007 before hitting the half-way mark. Even the things I loved this year seemed a little bored, a little too invested in cultural ennui, opting to, ya know, go get some margaritas, rather than start the revolution and I was ready to put down my Molotov cocktail and join them. A margarita does sound good right now.I was musing as I slid on some sandals and searched dully for my sunglasses when a flaming comet tore through the roof of my house, knocking me into a crater a million feet deeper than where I was moments before standing. When I regained consciousness, I gazed through the brimstone and sparks and saw the words "BLITZEN TRAPPER" scratched on the side of that meteor.
Having my prayers answered for a new favorite band this summer may have set my atheism skidding to the ditches, but the atheism was getting boring too. Blitzen Trapper can be most succinctly described as Captain Beefheart meets early Beatles meets King Crimson meets fucking awesome, all rolled into a fat, green, low-fi joint left mysteriously on your coffee table, and you have the day off and house to yourself. Instead of mining a particular vein like most bands, Blitzen Trapper sends rickety excavators in all directions, destroying as much treasure as they unearth.
The opener "Devil's a Go-Go" stumbles out with Magic Band power swagger and sing-song defiance, plowing through my consciousness like a zombie bike race, shockingly devolving into a sweet Santa Fe mariachi moment before climbing up the mountain to conjure more lightning. Best opening salvo in years. I say make it the national anthem or at least senior class song for a year and see what happens.
Next up is the title track which sounds all the world like that "Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs" song but taking its own anthemic tack, enlisting you to join the cult. Where do I get my head shaved, y'all? Then "Futures & Folly" delivers a delicate XTC/McCartney fueled slightly prog romp. Things were getting so dire I considered reviewing the Starbuck's Paul McCartney disc, favorably even, but thankfully Bltzen Trapper saved me from that critical dead end. Why talk about tired old Paul McCartney when you can showcase what his residual effects will be 100 years in the future? "Miss Spiritual Tramp" is like post-apocalypse Wings reduced to a mash, strained through one of Stephen Malkmus' ankle socks to get the liquor. Then, release the prog hounds on the wall-toppling "Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant's Hem" It's what I would want to hear if the Statue of Liberty would suddenly spring to life, angry from a century of standing in a poluted harbor and start stalking the streets of Manhattan like Godzilla. Ok, actually, I'd want to hear M??t??rhead do "Iron Man" at meth velocity, but this will do.
And then after all that mahem, what should emerge but a bona-fide summer-hit-worth single "Sci-Fi Kid" that ropes in all their various aspects in a delicious 2:56 nugget. A faux bluegrass thingy "Wild Mtn. Jam' servers as a palette cleanser (nice topping of squeeze box and jaw harp) before the crepuscular weirdness of "Hot Tip/ Tough Cub."
If I am going to continue the McCartney thing and compare this album to Abbey Road (one of the only Beatles albums still worth discussing, really) this track would be "I Want You" one I want to dig, and think its done well, but just don't. And it's glaring because I think all that surrounds it to be scintillatingly brilliant, like the pastoral robot shimmy of "The Green King Sings" and the sunset ballad (flutes and everything!) "Summer Town."
The final three songs go out with a bang and then a whisper. "Murder Babe" is an improbably brilliant mix of early Kinks and Southern rock flame-out, eventually making me realize that is the precise formula that made Ziggy Stardust so brilliant. "Country Caravan" is exactly that, with slide and strummed guitars and a haze of smoke issuing out the passenger window as the trees and power lines flash by, flickering in the setting sun. "Badger's Black Brigade" takes the magic hour light of the preceding and reduces it to a flickering candle, snuffed out in the hiss of tape and slow descending curtain of night. What a brilliantly crafted record. If nothing else of interest happens this year, and we all turn away from this supernova back to our margaritas and lazy conversations about "Top Chef" or wanting to buy a Vespa or whatever nothingness we were discussing, we'll always have Blitzen Trapper.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death