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On its fifth album, Portland, Ore.’s Blitzen Trapper fights an uphill battle against its recent reputation. Its excellent 2008 long-player, Furr, can now be considered part of the starter set for the young flannel underground. From the very beginning, Destroyer of the Void makes it plain that it wants to be something else. The album-opening title track is an expansive suite that begins a cappella, slides into a David Bowie imitation, dissolves into synthy ambience, gallops out on a Zeppelin-esque guitar riff, and wraps with a choral piano ballad that the Beatles could have left on Abbey Road’s cutting-room floor. The message is loud and clear: Furr, with its familiar, folkie warmth, this ain’t. The band rides the momentum of that first song into “Laughing Lover,” an ode to the sad clowns of romance, and then steadies with “Below the Hurricane,” another suite—dreamlike and easier to take than the opener—that might be the album’s strongest track. But Destroyer begins to lose steam after that. For a band that increasingly skews experimental, Blitzen Trapper has made a new album that’s surprisingly unmemorable (two more exceptions are the piano-and-strings duet “Heaven and Earth” and the closer, “Sadie”). The murder ballad “The Man Who Would Speak True” plays like an inferior telling of Furr’s “Black River Killer”—the latter evoked the impotence of God in the face of pathology, while this one describes, to a less compelling effect, the hazards of being too forthcoming about one’s blood lust. “Evening Star” and “The Tailor” seem unfinished; they’d feel like filler if the album had 10 tracks instead of 12. In too many instances, songwriter Eric Earley suffers from what seems like a self-conscious effort to take his melodies and chord progressions in unexpected directions. This aversion to predictability is admirable, but it results in overly busy songs that seem leery of lingering too long on a hook. Furr might have been a less complex album, but it gave listeners plenty to grab onto. Destroyer, while ambitious, ultimately leaves its audience groping in a void.
Blitzen Trapper performs June 14 at 7 p.m. at the 9:30 Club. $15.