Trapper Keeper 

Wild Mountain Nation
Blitzen Trapper
(LidKerCow)
Blitzen Trapper frontman Eric Earley says he doesn’t own any albums and never visits record stores, but one disc that he admits to loving is Pavement’s Wowee Zowee. It makes sense that Earley would be drawn to Pavement’s most restless, chaotic creation, because Earley’s band tends to make an art of
disorientation.

For one thing, Blitzen Trapper’s bluegrasss banjos and showy drawls sound like the products of rural southerners, but this band hails from Portland, Oregon. For another, they beat you on the head with a Tourette’s guitar meltdown one minute, and soothe you with a perfectly executed acoustic ballad before you’ve regained your equilibrium. Wild Mountain Nation is Blitzen Trapper’s third album in this vein, but they’re receiving the buzz of a new band, which suggests that their approach is belatedly kicking in for many critics.

“Devil’s A Go-Go” sets a frenetic pace, with a ramshackle, side-saddle gallop that makes you wonder if everyone switched instruments before the take and decided to play in different time signatures. That leads into the title song, a sweet slice of roots-rock with soft harmonies that suggest a post-punk Grateful Dead.

Between the polar extremes offered by these two songs, BT shows itself to be a first-rate pop group. “Futures & Folly” is an airy tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Shins album, and “Sci-Fi Kid” is an irresistible demonstration of this band’s interstellar-rustic fusion, with Earley describing himself as a “digital brat with an insect mind.”

Of course, BT can’t help but muck things up with pointless digressions such as “Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem,” a noisy mess that sounds like a prog-rock epic written by a beginning guitar student. But that’s simply part of the package with this band. Wild Mountain Nation is uneven, unhinged, undisciplined, and untamed, but it’s also unapologetically bursting with musical invention.

— Gilbert Garcia


HOUSE WARMING

Time on Earth
Crowded House
(EMI/Parlophone)

It’s been 14 years since Crowded House last released a studio album, though it might be hard to call Time on Earth a legitimate Crowded House album or even a reunion. Time grew out of what was supposed to be a third solo effort by Neil Finn, but when good friend and Crowded House drummer Paul Hester committed suicide in 2005, Finn reconnected in his grief with Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour and, before long, his solo album became an almost-reunion. Because of this, Time is an enigma, a Crowded House album that is clearly Finn’s show; this works well enough, especially since almost every song is linked by a profound melancholic sadness produced by Hester’s death, but it’s hard to ignore how haphazard this next step in Crowded House’s discography is.

Time also stands out as the band’s most mature work, even if that maturity was brought about by the pain of shared loss that somehow focused Finn’s generally ambiguous, and at times stubbornly cryptic, lyrics into something more outwardly profound than any of the band’s first three albums managed. There are no instant pop classics here like “Something So Strong” or “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” though “She Called Up” and “Don’t Stop Now” come pretty damn close.

“Nobody Wants To” struggles with how life tends not to come to easy conclusions and “Even a Child” is all about broken promises. “Silent House” was co-penned with the Dixie Chicks before Hester’s death and appeared on the Chicks’ Taking the Long Way, but without their anger and bitterness, it’s one of the most woeful songs on Time. The thing is, no matter how long these songs haunt you afterward, Finn and company somehow manage to wrap you up with the assurance that, hey, it’s also going to be all right. Really.

— Cole Haddon 



PULP FRICTION

Jarvis
Jarvis Cocker
(Rough Trade/World’s Fair)

After a quarter-century fronting vastly underrated Britpop act Pulp, Jarvis Cocker makes his debut, delivering the best British solo turn since Elvis Costello left the Attractions behind for King of America.

Like Costello, Cocker has become quite the literate pop craftsman, and nary a song goes by that isn’t gilded with a catchy hook or inescapable vocal melody. Cocker scores repeatedly, whether renovating Tommy James’s “Crimson and Clover” for the writhing lust of “Black Magic,” or warning “Don’t Let Him Waste your Time” to some bouncy Britpop. He mixes things up with tracks such as “Baby’s Coming Back to Me,” a xylophone-driven track that crawls along like a classic late ’50s Bobby Darin ballad, and the noisy, punkish “Fat Children,” which sounds like the Jam setting Swell Maps afire.

Cocker often seems to be channeling the folk-inflected songwriter pop of the early ’70s, really the perfect sunny complement to songs such as “From Auschwitz to Ipswich,” where he sweetly croons, “Evil comes, I know from not where/ but if you take a look inside yourself, maybe you’ll find some in there.”

Indeed, as dark as Cocker’s wit is, it requires pop this winning. This infectiously cynical album is appropriately capped by the grand, U2-ish hidden track “Cunts Are Still Running the World.” As long as they are, Cocker will always have something to write about.

— Chris Parker


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