Blitzen Trapper - All Across This Land
Released October 2, 2015
By Chloe Sjuberg
Before giving Blitzen Trapper’s eighth studio album my first real listen, my first impression was that the song titles were incredibly cheesy. Lonesome Angel, Nights Were Made For Love, Cadillac Road… Free with preorder: bad ‘80s hair, a broken heart, an old sports car and a drinking problem? Why the gratuitous parentheses on Rock and Roll (Was Made For You)? I could have made these up myself. Maybe I’ve just been reading too many Clickhole “quizzes” like this one.
Judgy jokes aside, the opening title track is classic Blitzen Trapper – twangy riffs, clean but gritty, combining to make a perfectly vintage rock sound. It’s all sunshine, reminiscent of a roadtrip from days past. It’s spirited, uplifting and carefree, a call to ramble along with them. It’s conventional classic country rock, a straightforward sendup of their influences, but damn if it doesn’t sound good.
After my first listen to the album, though, I really wasn’t too enthralled. The wild trip that All Across This Land heralded never quite materialized. But then, I found that Rock and Roll (Was Made For You) had been echoing in my head all week. It starts with soft, low, rhythmic vocals and a gentle energy. It’s chill and comforting, while still a paean to militant rock music that “won’t ease your mind”. It moves back and forth between this softer, calmer tone and a steely, chiming chorus with a wilder, moodier edge. The chorus of “I’ve been playing this music, man, for so, so long” rings true as the Oregonians seem to be very much in their element – yet this also means reverting to tired, uninspired lyrics and themes.
Mystery and Wonder and Love Grow Cold are sadder and more contemplative. They both set their moods with lovely instrumental touches, like Love Grow Cold’s slow, dreamy reverb, but they fall victim to maudlin lyrics and repetitiveness.
The band has a frustrating tendency to write songs that put an ethereal, unattainable heartbreaker of a woman on a pedestal. Lonesome Angel shows symptoms of this, but Even If You Don’t is the chief offender on the album. Earley’s narrator seems to think he knows better than the object of his affections, trying to convince her to leave the apparent jerk she’s with. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve all been there, but I’d rather sing about old-timey serial killers when I’m feeling lonely.
Nights Were Made For Love makes no effort to hide its Springsteen influences, with its jangly piano and talk of football, rivers, girls on tailgates and boys in bars “on the darkest side of town”. I can’t tell if it’s a parody or a straight-up homage of this style. Lyrically and thematically, it’s sappy and clichéd, but its nostalgic calls to youth, friendship and recklessness might make you want to roadtrip in the evening sun down the Oregon coast, talking about old times (or should I say glory days?).
Cadillac Road likewise owes a lot to the Boss, with its chiming piano and stormy driving motion. I like its tone – moody, foggy and lonely – but the pounding rhythm gets repetitive and the subject matter annoyingly trite, as everything from an illegitimate son to yet another old dirt road are introduced.
Let the Cards Fall is enjoyable and inoffensive, while Across the River ends the album on a slow, sad note. Perhaps the cryptic, introspective journey it evokes will lead us in the direction of Blitzen Trapper’s next project – it’s not over yet, big changes in sound still can and will come. Here’s hoping.
Blitzen Trapper’s trajectory towards the more conventional and accessible has been at work since the raucous and strange Wild Mountain Nation, which brought them to mainstream attention in 2007. All Across This Land is definitely the least “weird” Blitzen Trapper album yet. It doesn’t have the moody darkness of VII, their previous offering, and they’ve lost most of the creepy, surreal imagery that made Furr and Destroyer of the Void stand out. Knowing what they’re capable of, this feels like a letdown. Nevertheless, their spirit and instrumental talent are still evident throughout the album. It’s classic Americana done well, so ignore the hopelessly cheesy lyrics, enjoy the rich guitar sound, and let Eric Earley’s gorgeous voice carry you down some sunny, comforting road.