Blitzen Trapper's fifth full-length, Destroyer of the Void, opens up with a title-track that functions perfectly as the band's mission statement. It starts with a crystal-clear four-part vocal harmony lifted straight from the CSNY playbook—a cappella at first, then joined by a simple, Beatles-esque mellotron line. "Here's to the lone and wayward son," they sing, "For to love is to leave, for to run like a rolling stone." Bass and acoustic guitar enter the mix, and then electric guitar and rolling, scene-stealing drums give the whole thing an unmistakably nerdy, unapologetically proggish feel. For the second verse, they sort of hit reset: frontman Eric Earley is doing the 70s singer-songwriter thing now, singing by himself with just a piano as accompaniment, before the rest of the band chimes in with background oohs and ahhs and an airtight groove that immediately calls to mind The Band. Then there's a 30-second break, with lots of noise off in the distance and a barely audible sample of a man speaking; it eventually gives way to a high-energy, guitar-heavy attack. This goes on for about a minute, and then it's back to just Earley and the piano, coming to an end after six-plus minutes with another four-part vocal harmony, easily pictured being sung into a microphone by four bearded dudes with their arms around one another. It's not a perfect song—it would be nice if the transitions from part to part were more integrated musically—but it's an engaging romp through the handful of styles these guys have figured out how to execute remarkably well.
For the rest of the album, though, they combine those styles in a much different way. Rather than going full-on prog for 30 seconds at a time, or full-on faux-country or full-on sappy balladry, there are hints of each at play at almost all times. It makes for a less interesting—or at least less surprising—record than you might be expecting after the first track, but what it lacks in structural strangeness it more than makes up for in impressive if borderline revivalist songcraft and pitch-perfect production. As opposed to like-minded bands like Dr. Dog, or even to an extent some of the 60s-aping Elephant 6 bands that have fallen so far out of favor in recent years, Blitzen Trapper are never really in it for historical accuracy in terms of studio techniques or, god help us, their fucking clothes, but for the feeling those old songs—their notes, the relationships between instruments, their general disposition—give you. They succeed in recreating all the important stuff while managing to ignore all the extraneous stylistic stuff.
It's perhaps not a coincidence, though, that with a few exceptions (namely brilliant album-closer "Sadie"), the best songs on Destroyer of the Void are the ones that are most vague in their reference points. "The Man Who Could Not Speak," "Heaven and Earth" and "The Tree" all feature little more than piano or acoustic guitar and Eric Earley's vocals. His magnificent knack for peculiar, unpredictable melodies is the band's most valuable asset, and it's on such full display on these songs that one wonders if he's not sacrificing too much of his own identity for the sake of rehashing something else. That their rehashing is done so lovingly and expertly certainly offers some consolation, but maybe not for long.