Destroyer of the Void
(Sub Pop; 2010)
By Andrew Hall | 5 June 2010
Blitzen Trapper’s fifth album, Destroyer of the Void, says a lot through its cover, just as its predecessor, 2008’s Furr, did. Furr‘s cover presented the name Blitzen Trapper in a font that would’ve likely been described as futuristic throughout much of the 1980s, atop woodgrain. Destroyer of the Void presents itself like some lost relic of 1970s country-folk, with its play a bit more subtle; a four-eyed steer surrounded by dragons seems an apt image for the music within, the least-skewed take on Americana this band has delivered.
Like with few bands, the noticeable increase in fidelity that came along with the jump to a larger label has hugely affected not just its sound, but how it presents songs. Void, the band’s second record for Sub Pop, continues the progression that began on Furr, as it places singer-songwriter Eric Earley’s vocals and his increasingly narrative-oriented lyrics at the center of the album, which rarely seemed the case with the band’s pre-Sub Pop material. Nowhere is this more clear than the six minute title track, which perhaps most clearly recalls the Fiery Furnaces circa Gallowsbird’s Bark (2003). It opens the album with a lengthy vocal harmony, accompanying harpsichord, and drum breaks before a piano emerges from the mix to anchor at least half those elements while synthesizers pan and Earley repeatedly rhymes “destroy” and “void.” Halfway through, the song disappears amongst sampled dialogue, returns harder and faster, then brings back the piano for the final minute. It’s ambitious, dense, almost distracting, and the kind of sequencing move that makes the record an all-in or all-out affair.
From that point on, it’s moments that serve as a reprieve from the cacophony of the more aggressive songs here, like the murder narrative and travelogue of “The Man Who Would Speak True,” that jump out, where Earley gets by almost entirely on acoustic guitar and harmonica, with his only accompaniment coming from accordion and subdued, atmospheric percussion. “Heaven and Earth” is a fairly straightforward ballad, but its relative sparseness and string arrangement elevate it into an unexpected standout. Yet novelty doesn’t necessarily serve as a sole way to render a song more compelling; “Dragon’s Song” gets played as close to straight-up indie pop as the band gets, but never transcends that form, and Alela Diane’s presence, while lovely, doesn’t do enough to make “The Tree” anything but a pleasant duet.
Destroyer of the Void isn’t a bad album, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect well upon Blitzen Trapper’s changes as a band. Some of this material skirts dangerously close to revivalism in a way that nothing precedes it did, and while it’s well-played and sounds great, Earley’s emergence as a songwriter, rather than merely the singer in Blitzen Trapper, is redefining this band as one that exists more within tradition than apart from it, a development I can’t help but be a little disappointed by. On album closer “Sadie” Earley sings, “I can never change”; whether or not there’s any truth to that from this point on will be crucial.