Perfection in popular music is a little different—it is rarely flawless. Pop gems from "You Really Got Me" to "Get It On" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are rough, making a virtue of their simplicity and brazenly refashioning their influences. They shake the tree of shared vocabulary and come back with a red, ripe apple—tart and shocking, but also familiar and comforting.
"Furr," by Portland, Oregon, sextet Blitzen Trapper, is just such an apple. The high, chiming strum of an acoustic guitar that opens the song and the nasal braying of a harmonica says early Dylan, while the lilting, gently curved melody says Simon and Garfunkel—a little of the rough charm of "Girl from the North Country" mixed with the sweet darkness of "Scarborough Fair."
The band leaves it half-made, because Eric Earley's spare, melancholy voice and gently urgent guitar are really all the song needs. It is, after all, only three common chords, laid down in lazy circles that interlock and amplify one another. Blitzen Trapper are right to resist embellishment, because before the words even really hit you, you can sense the blood flowing through them, a sound simultaneously divine, wild, and profoundly human.
The words fall in drifts, steeped in the structures of myth and fable to an extent rarely found in pop music. A boy becomes a wolf "howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn" before returning to civilization when he sees "a girl with skin the color of a pearl." When his fur changes back, he still dreams "of running careless through the snow." It's a tale that embraces the breadth of human nature and connects the bestial to the beatific ("My flesh had turned to fur/And my thoughts they surely were/Turned to instinct and obedience to God") without stooping to easy answers. We're left with questions: What do we relinquish to wisdom? Are we animals or angels? What does it mean to find a home?
But no words put down here can do it justice. As with all the best music, it need not be explained—it need only be heard.
Steve McPherson is a Twin Cities freelance writer and editor.
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