Throughout Blitzen Trapper’s career, songwriter Eric Earley has applied his absurdist literary gaze to everything from Americana, country and ’60s folk rock to power pop and glam rock. On the group’s most successful records (particularly 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation), the audacious juxtaposition of various styles effectively eschews the idea of an intrinsic artistic identity.

On VII,Earley again corresponds with many tenets of American songwriting, kicking off with the barnyard romp ‘Feel The Chill’, followed by the soulful ‘Shine On’ (complete with female gospel backing vocals) and the straight country number ‘Ever Loved Once’. These songs are decent genre examples, but the familiar tropes aren’t craftily reapplied to illustrate an innovative new perspective.

However, VII begins to get interesting on rambling folk number ‘Valley Of Death’, when the armed and drunk narrator looks out “across the valley of the shadow below” and thus commences a sequence of genre transgression. ‘Oregon Geography’ is a murky take on Odelay-era Beck that has Earley reporting/rapping about rural peculiarities over a maligned banjo loop and the sound of falling rain. Next up, ‘Neck Tatts, Cadillacs’ is a paranoid neo-funk number with a female vocalist taking over for the rousing chorus. Later comes ‘Drive On Up’, a return to the more conventional tact employed early in the record (this time an adept homage to The Band’s roots rock) but, by virtue of being surrounding by the bold genre explorations, it resonates with much greater force.

VII could be construed as a conceptual journey; what begins as a down-home affair starts to take unpredictable turns as the protagonist wanders beyond the comfort zone. Ultimately it has mixed results, but it’s a fascinating attempt and a worthy addition to Blitzen Trapper’s catalogue.

3.5/5 stars

BY AUGUSTUS WELBY

VII is out now through Vagrant/Shock.

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