Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blitzen Trapper and Alela Diane - 2 / 20 - Magic Stick - Detroit

Both artists in the realms of what's generally dubbed "psychedelic/alternative folk", Nevada City, CA's Diane and the Portland Oregon sextet - share the night of Feb 20th at the Magic Stick.


"I don't really read stuff about us..."
(Blitzen Trapper: The Deep Cutz Interview)

(words: milo)

I ask Blitzen Trapper frontman Eric Earley what the hell he was getting at when he sung about a monkey in a mask, calling his name…

“Uh, I don’t know. I mean…, I don’t know…who knows?”

“Who knows indeed,” I find myself smarmily shooting back – somewhat knee-jerk, but mostly just me getting adapted to how often he’s shrugged off a lot of my questions at this point in the interview. I can feel it in his weary press-circuit-worn voice, imagining the esoteric Oregon-based singer/songwriter assuredly arching his shoulder or rolling his eyes when I ask about Rolling Stone magazine ranking their 2008 album Furr, 13th in the top 50 releases of the past year.

“It felt really good…but I don’t really read [magazines] that much. If I have a minute I’ll read it or look at it…”

Turning baffled heads with their third album, 2007’s bombastic, self-destructive-boogie and noise-pop space odyssey Wild Mountain Nation, I prod Earley that many saw the more golden-toned misty folk balladry of Furr (albeit splotched with crackly freak-fire and hard rock moments) to be “a more cohesive” record for the group... Oh, and did he have the anxiety of being a mis-labeled band (with “Grateful Dead” being name-dropped with their press mentionings)…?

“[Furr] feels less cohesive to me than [Wild Mountain Nation]” said Earley. “WMN felt pretty, ‘oh it’s a lo-fi kinda garage-Americana record, whereas Furr goes all the way from these folk songs” (like the breakthrough Neil Young-ish psychedelic title track) “…to this hard rock stuff…” (the shimmy-shambled explosions of “Gold For Bread”) to pure country (the cutting gothic lore of “Black River Killer”). [Furr] may be better production.” Earley, the son of a bluegrass musician and whose first instrument he picked up was the banjo, said he rarely, if ever, writes on the road. He spent tour breaks through 07 pounding out prototypes for Furr on a fateful piano. These tunes were, as all previous BT albums, self-recorded by Earley in his own studio (at home in Portland, with a four-track and a lab top).

"Furr" Live

The band, (currently with: Erik Menteer, Brian Adrian Koch, Michael VanPeltDrew Laughery, Marty Marquis) mostly grew up together near Salem, Oregon – following the tract of high school musicians hammering things out together between attending football games, or maybe logging the acoustic guitar with you on camping trips or off-road adventures through the piney mists of their northwestern-nestled home. The band properly formed in 2000 (supposedly named for Earley’s grandfather) and self-released their self titled debut in 2003. Their neo-country warbling fuzz folk dashed with a bit of side-winding space rock bent a lot of ears in the hipster indie community with Wild Mountain Nation’s 07 breakthrough. Tours followed, with Earley diligently writing the precursors of Furr and the band were soon signed to SubPop. The rest…is history…The rest- being the storm of press-picked quotations classifying the band as this new voice in weird-but-poppy country, rustic hip, and 70’s bearded rock-revivalism.

“I dunno…” says Earley as I hint closer to the ‘say, you’re band’s getting a lot of attention lately’ type of question. “I don’t really read stuff about us, I pretty much try to stay as ignorant as possible. If you listen to (04’s) Field Rexx, Wild Mountain Nation and Furr, you start to see… ‘oh, they don’t make the same record…’ Those records are completely different from each other. So, nailing something down to ‘oh this record is popular and selling a lot, so this must be what they are…’ It’s not gonna be accurate; when the next record comes out, there’s not gonna be a ‘Furr-song’ on it…there might be singles. It’s not gonna be that kinda Dylan-folk-thing, ya know?...I dunno.”

mp3: "Gold For Bread"

The band started recording Earley’s new writings this month for their fifth album, deemed “…not anything like Furr.” They hope for a fall release but, “we’ll see what happens…”

2 / 20 Magic Stick


(Alela Diane - To Be Still: Album Review)

To Be Still - (Rough Trade)

The pedal-steel warbles steadily above, the guitars strum inconspicuously in the corners and pressing melodies waft onward, giving many of the songs a dreamy aspect; like traipsing ever forward in the still-dew-soaked grassy field enwrapped by a soft cyclone of pedals fluttered like violin’s majestic whine and the slowly oncoming sunrise warmth of singer Alela Diane’s crackling moan.

The Nevada City native drew attention in 2006 with the re-release of “The Pirate’s Gospel,” her humble 2004 debut (then appearing on CD-R, from home recordings with her father). Her voice feels so familiar, soft and easy; as natural as the wind through the trees or as trasnfixing as the water rolling upon the shore. Such as it is for the last minute or so of “Age Old Blues,” you feel like you could listen to her swaying “whoa oh ooohhs” for an entire album. Diane sings with both devastation and resolve, like the teary eyed girl with undone pigtails and dirt-smudged face breaking into the run down barn of memories and unearthing all the secrets of her family and her home.
“Will you look at me when your face shows the lines of years / While you’ve been away I have needed your strong hands” she sings on the softly bouncing “To Be Still,” a fine example of her blend of almost-twangy country and gothic folk chill. A warm sonorous acoustic guitar steadily gallops with minimalist drums and the crisp coo of the pedal steel: “And it’s here at home,” she sings of this generic place of constant return, “I wait for your wanders to be still…”

That she is a contemporary of Joanna Newsom will make perfect sense if you listen to the wispy wail of her warm vocals and the capricious yet assertive exploratory paths pushed through her vocal melodies. Though, to Diane's credit, her songs, her sound, feels less purposely abstract or grandiose than Newsom, relying more on the transfixing ability of the stark simplicity of foggy mornings out in the country, wrapped in the woolen coats of classical folk (albeit here strongly utilizing a fantastical sounding violin on such tunes as the illuminating “Take Us Back.”)

mp3: "White As Diamonds"

To Be Still may require a bit more patience than a late February-set audience may want to give up, in terms of being downed with serious winter blues – this may take us back to those drearier dead-of-winter recalling moments. But if you let the icicles wash away and wait for that first perfect sunny morning of Spring, bring this record out and have a moving meditative experience. Coming out on Rough Trade means she’ll get some spins from the alternative and post-punk digging crowd; that her biography and links back to Joanna Newsom may garner the press to spin the freak-folk quick-hit buzz, and now that she’s touring with Portland’s spaced-out neo-country-ites Blitzen Trapper means she’ll get mixed in with the “psyche-folk” crowd. But she’s really none of this…So, at the very least, it’ll be interesting to see where she goes in 2009 and how she’s perceived. But if you just listen to the record you’ll get the straight scoop. It’s closer to classical folk; simple, striking gothic folk that takes you back through the haunting halls of memory and falls into the grass, arms splayed, in the warm sunrays of a timeless summer’s day.

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