VII could very well be subtitled, “How Blitzen Trapper got Their Groove Back.” The band took a certain amount of flack from media and longtime fans for their last release, American Goldwing, because of everything from selling out to being drenched in sentimentality. The reasons—whether justified or not—seemed to be endless. VII feels more natural and free-wheeling than that release did, and by extension the result is an album that feels more organic.
There are times throughout the record where it sounds like a 45-minute continuous mix of songs. Even when there is a break in the action, the next song in most cases feels like it naturally bleeds into, or at least leads into, the next one. “Feel the Chill” and “Shine On,” for example, have this nice, kooky vibe going on where they sound like a honky-tonked up rock ‘n’ roll version of Eels, and regardless of whether he is crooning soulfully (“Don’t Be a Stranger”), sounding like he is standing ten feet away from the microphone for a nice vocal effect (“Valley of Death”) or engaging in a seemingly effortless freestyle rap (“Oregon Geography), Eric Earley’s dusty vocals lead the way. Everything feels connected on the record despite the album not feeling repetitive or boring, and that is no small feat.
Earley’s vocal variety is also emblematic of the content and some of the general musical tone that is evident on this release. The groovy rocker “Thirsty Man,” contains interludes from an acoustic guitar and organ among other instruments, and “Valley of Death” tosses in some distorted harmonicas, scratching and hypnotic beats for fun. And you know Earley’s on a roll when he can whip out a line like “It’s better to love and lose than to gain a world on a string” in “Thirsty Man,” and then come back with some rapid-fire raps in “Neck Tatts, Cadillacs” that sound like they’re designed to increase his street cred. VII feels genuine, cool and confident and for that Blitzen Trapper continues to solidify their discography.