WHEN BLITZEN TRAPPER'S Eric Earley and I speak on the phone, I tell him I'm currently living in Los Angeles. It prompts a simple: "Oh yeah? How's that going?" One can tell from his inflection that he's striving for a neutral response, but it's futile. I laugh knowingly; even through social graces and faulty service towers, Earley's loyalty to the great state of Oregon is clear as a clarion's call.
Blitzen Trapper's latest album, VII, is suffused with this allegiance. The Portland-based band's seventh album, and their first from Vagrant Records, unfolds like a vintage accordion postcard book of Southern Cascadia; you hold it up to the light and all of those misty stories and verdant scenes tumble down in front of you. Each track is carved out by Earley's colorful tales of the people he's known and the well-worn roads he's traveled—for instance, the crazy Silverton mountain route that leads to a past lover in "Drive on Up."
Most explicit, perhaps, is "Oregon Geography." Earley explains that it's a first-person panorama: "This is me in high school, up on my girlfriend's roof, looking out and describing the area around where I grew up in [Salem,] Oregon." An eerie banjo—sampled from an Appalachia field recording—and a rhythm track the band laid down many years ago convene beneath the song, like subterranean refugees reminiscing about the old country. Meanwhile, somewhere above ground, Earley's voice adopts a dark hue, calling out muddy rivers and familiar drunks. Altogether, it's an aural scrapbook of the memories Earley dredges up in his songs in order to properly sort through them. "I'm always trying to get at those feelings and images from the past that have such an effect on me in the present," he says.
Despite all this meditative remembrance, most of VII exuberantly basks in the glory of rock 'n' roll. A listener will find inexplicably lovelorn songs—for instance, "Shine On" and "Heart Attack"—charged and driven by bright guitars and a robust rhythm section. Some of the tracks are so lively that they are borderline frenetic, like that one friend you love dearly but are afraid to take to dinner parties (see: "Neck Tatts, Cadillacs"). Perhaps it is best conveyed by the descriptor "Rocky Mountain Whoop-Ass," which was hilariously coined by the band's "close associates" to describe their multi-genre amalgam.
In a brief manifesto regarding VII, Earley writes, "The Pac Northwest is a place for synthesis. A backwater for slag and leftovers..." After poring over these sentences, all I can think of is the state motto of Oregon: "She flies with her own wings." These two thoughts feel inextricably tied, creating a sense that regardless of where you may travel, you can always return to the state to reconfigure yourself, to reconnect with the stories you've amassed along the way. What more could you possibly want from the place you call home?