It is fitting that ten seconds into Blitzen Trapper’s fifth full-length record, front man Eric Earley utters that most sacred of rock ‘n’ roll tropes: “For to love is to leave or to run like a rollin’ stone,” he sings in the harmonized verse that leads off the album’s epic title track, “Destroyer of the Void.” As is the case with just about every musician or band that has employed the Blues’ greatest simile—Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Van Morrison, the Temptations, the Rolling Stones—Blitzen Trapper is unabashed in its embrace of tradition.
Over the course of their four full-lengths albums to date, including their revelatory 2008 Sub Pop release Furr, the Portland band has already made that much clear. And, Earley’s considerable poetic talents and his band’s hard-earned chops have gained them a growing international audience. The band’s continuing exploration of American music that spans from the ‘60s folk movement to the country sounds of the ‘70s, to the pop balladry and prog rock of the ‘80s has earned it notice ranging from Rolling Stone magazine to late-night network television to Yo Gabba Gabba, among a great many others. This fifth album, Destroyer of the Void, takes Blitzen Trapper one step further, building on the band’s seamless marriage of the familiar and the fantastic to, literally, create an otherworldly experience.
But there is more to Blitzen Trapper than those traditions. More than anything, the band credits its music to its Pacific Northwest home. It is there that the six members came together ten years ago and formed a creative cauldron from which would emerge numerous novels, a locally-celebrated play based on the film Manos: The Hands of Fate, innumerable art projects and, of course, a flood of fantastical songs. Destroyer of the Void is only the latest work to emerge from this world, but it is one where their musical community is on full display.
During two distant and brief breaks from the band’s near-incessant touring for Furr—one in January 2009 and the other in January 2010—Earley and a few of his bandmates entered the attic studio of the lauded Portland musician and studio engineer who had recorded Furr standouts “Lady on the Water” and “Black River Killer,” Mike Coykendall (Bright Eyes, M Ward, She & Him). In those two winters, in that old attic, Coykendall worked with Earley to bring life to these songs, including material the songwriter had been working on for years, most notably the piano ballad “Sadie.” The producer wasn’t the only local luminary to fill out the album. Preternatural musical siblings Peter Broderick (Horse Feathers, Efterklang) and Heather Woods Broderick (Efterklang) wrote the album’s string arrangements, while folk standout Alela Diane lent her angelic vocals to the duet “The Tree.”
The heart of Destroyer of the Void, though, is still found in Earley’s meticulous songwriting. Here he is firmly in storyteller mode, expanding on the mythical world he created on Furr. That album introduced listeners to a ragged but beautiful world populated by mysterious killers, anthropomorphic narrators and benevolent women living in watery ways. Here, those characters are joined by a wandering tailor, a black-eyed lover, a flower-tongued balladeer and, of course, a host of lost lovers rolling along the road of life to a truly original American soundtrack.