When Sub Pop released Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr” in September 2008, Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” was poised to bump Young Jeezy’s “The Recession” from the top of Billboard’s 200 album chart, in the closing quarter of a year that had been kind to Taylor Swift, Lil’ Wayne, Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and the Jonas Brothers. 2008 had also turned ears toward the creative fusions of classic rock, folk and chamber music emanating from the Pacific Northwest. Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, signed to Sub Pop early that year, shared key influences (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, ’60s folk) with Portland’s Blitzen Trapper and had toured with their bearded brethren. By December, the Foxes’ self-titled debut full-length was topping year’s-best lists, and the widely acclaimed Blitzen Trapper — along with fellow Portlanders like the Decemberists and Horse Feathers — was bolstering the rainy Oregon city’s rep as a fertile hub for indie rock and folk hipsters.
Barack Obama was promising voters “Yes, we can.” Sarah Palin was whiffing on softball questions from Katie Couric. The feds had just taken over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Donald Trump was pushing “The Celebrity Apprentice.” People were pulling grunge flannel out of the closet. Man buns weren’t yet a thing. Millennials were just becoming a cultural force.
That background reflexively springs to mind while spending time with Sub Pop’s deluxe 10th-anniversary reissue of “Furr.” It was the band’s fourth and most focused album, after 2007’s independent “Wild Mountain Nation” cinched their label deal. Poetic frontman Eric Earley and his bandmates mixed spacey electronics with rustic instrumentation while reaching into the past for stylistic elements from 1970s Laurel Canyon rock and country, The Band, Southern rock, the Beatles, early Wilco — and sounded of the moment. Amidst a historically rancorous election season, the title track’s story of a boy raised by wolves, with its questioning of civilization, felt timely and true. It still does.
The anniversary reissue packages the original tracks with 10 more from the “Furr” sessions, plus live performances from KCRW of the title song and “God & Suicide.” (“War is Placebo,” “Booksmart Baby” and “Maybe Baby” were released as limited-edition singles in 2009 and 2011 for Record Store Day.) “On My Way to the Bay” aspires to the mythic Americana storytelling of “Black River Killer,” but lacks the rhythmic propulsion and narrative arc that gives the latter song its charge. “Rent-a-Cop” sounds like a delirious collaboration between Dylan and the Bee Gees. The new songs don’t ring with the giddy sense of discovery that still animates “Furr,” but daub more color onto the band’s original musical vision.
That “Furr” remains the benchmark against which all subsequent Blitzen Trapper albums have been measured is somewhat unfair. Later albums have grown more accessible (especially 2011’s “American Goldwing”) as they’ve dug deeper into classic rock comforts. Last year’s self-released “Wild and Reckless” arose from a rock opera Blitzen Trapper presented in Portland; Earley described the album as an extension of “Furr” — a convenient bridge to this reissue and tour.
Blitzen Trapper perform “Furr” at the Lodge Room, 104 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13; $20. Luluc open. Info: (323) 509-2861. blitzentrapper.com, lodgeroomhlp.com