Blitzen Trapper

Field Rexx

(CD Baby; 2005)

By Kate Steele | 12 January 2006

There are some albums that, for no reason I can easily categorize, serve their purpose best in the background. You can throw them on while performing various tasks and remain largely uninterrupted by their offerings. Not necessarily unmoved, but uninterrupted. Blitzen Trapper’s Field Rexx is not one of those albums. From the first listen it’s been demanding, an attention-deprived kitten clawing at my sleeve, imploring me to play it. At first, I wasn’t in the mood; “What’s so interesting about you, Blitzen Trapper?” I challenged, already secretly intrigued by their name. However reluctant I may have been, when I heard “Summer Twin” I knew that, for better or for worse, Field Rexx would draw me in. It turns out it’s been for the better.

Blitzen Trapper are six friends who live in Portland, Oregon. They recorded for four years as Garmonbozia, changed their name and released their self-titled debut in 2003, a CD-R EP in 2004 and Field Rexx in 2005. Field Rexx was recorded on a four-track -- in one of the band members’ basements, or perhaps, as it warms my heart to imagine, in a VW van parked near the waves on one of those endless, picturesque Oregon beaches. But why do I speculate over details? Because this is what’s available on their website. Just click on that link, which promises to teach you “How to win at roulette and influence Mr. Peeps.” It will take you here.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter who Blitzen Trapper are, where they record or how much facial hair they sport (although I suspect it’s a lot). Field Rexx speaks for itself -- in many tongues, some more lucid than others. It opens with a 28 second hoedown on the harmonica and fiddle that morphs into the loud and clanky jam-rock “Lux and Royal Shopper.” Then, it winds up an awkward notch with “Love I Exclaim,” a country-meets-psychedelic-funk experiment that seeks to determine the lengths of the listener’s stamina. Blitzer Trapper must know a thing or two about pacing, however, because just at the moment your finger’s itching for the skip button, they stun you with the sleepy, spacey “Summer Twin.” Only to give you another jolt with the next track, “Gold Gold Diamond” (the only song I’ve yet to make it through.) And we continue in this ecstatic, genre-shifting manner--bluegrass (“Dirty Pearls,” ) classic rock-ish (“Leopard’s Will to Live”), indie-rock (“Asleep for Days”) just plain weird (“Turkey in the Straw”)--to the album’s close.

When Blitzen Trapper do mellow, however, there’s something singularly haunting and hypnotic about the result. “Concrete Heaven” is a hazy, half-tempo ballad reminiscent of the Grateful Dead not only musically but in its sense of humour: “There’s time for one last dance/ I really like the way you wear those pants.” “Country Rain,” with its repetitive, transcendent, Nick Drake-esque guitar and spellbinding harmonies, can transport you to a mystifying summer day--you know the kind when it rains while the sun’s still shining? And then, suddenly, there’s a rainbow off in the distance and it’s the most vivid, beautiful thing you’ve seen, and you feel overwhelmed to the point of tears? I’m just winding up to talk about “40 Stripes,” though. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It starts with an imperfectly-picked, off-beat guitar riff, then the vocals layer in almost inaudibly. The drums kick in and I’m convinced, once again, of the supremacy of analog recording. Those mid-song high harmonies. The bridge. The lyrics. It really is just too much.

What makes Blitzen Trapper a great band is the scope of their vision; it’s sprawling and unstoppable. They don’t limit themselves to one genre and as a result they’re one of the most innovative and exciting bands around. Field Rexx is infused with a pioneering enthusiasm that defies you to ignore it.