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10 December 2009

Bingo Trappers - 'Sierra Nevada' (Shrimper/Sing, Eunuchs!)

My copy of this 1997 unheralded masterpiece still wears its $2 discount bin pricetag, and I'm still grateful for the bargain. These Dutch lo-fi folk-rockers formed in the mid-90s and spat out a bunch of tapes and a few full-length releases over the next 6 years or so, but this debut LP is the one I hold closest to my heart. It certainly helps that this was released on the two flagship labels of the "bi-fi" scene (or whatever it was called) during the pinnacle of my own interest/passion in such things. At the time I first heard this, I wasn't schooled enough in Bob Dylan or the Band or the Flying Burrito Bros or any of the other antecedents to this sound, but I knew I liked it. These are songs based around earnest melodies, simple guitar chords and arpeggios, cloppy drumming and occasionally steel guitar or organ when it needs to be particularly delicate ('Walkin' Through the Clouds' being a highlight of restraint). 'King in Exile' remains an all-time favorite bummer-rock tune, and when I saw these guys live in 2002 or so, they opened with it! There's a magnificence to the 4-track sound here, though it's not used to experiment as much as for mood. I would call this vaguely psychedelic music - 'Let's Hit the Road Again' reminds me of Syd Barrett, and 'Michael George' has a demented neo-psych feel. The songwriting is amazing - thankfully they sing in English so you can get all of the nuances of "Well I'm passing through" (in 'Deerhunter') and the very strict viewpoint of 'Pure Intentions' (which is actually a Mountain Goats cover; icing on the cake for me in 1998 when I bought this). Most of this mess comes from just two guys, who remained the core of the band throughout it all. 'Bastardizin' the Poet' veers into more popular 90s guitar fuzz sounds, but Neutral Milk Hotel this is not. Even behind the major chords, a European misery hangs over everything. The vocals get pretty dour, but there's some incredibly human guitar leads behind everything, poking through 'King in Exile's gloom like a flashlight. 'Joseph' could be a hymn, but instead it's a weighty meditative tune with a melody recalling traditional folk from the British Isles. 'Slice of Time' warps through the homespun drummin' and strummin' with a ghosty accompaniment; the slightly sing-song lyrics take on a creepy vibe that resembles a snake eating its own tail. It all wraps up with the sentimental 'Dream Horse', a carefully chosen act of sequencing that brings Sierra Nevada to a sweet conclusion. Weirdly, a band called Guv'ner released a record around the same time as this with the same cover photo. I don't think I've ever met another Bingo Trappers fan, but if I ever get around to writing that book about the Shrimper scene that I've always wanted to write, I'll hopefully encounter a few. Until then, it's nice to have this pleasure in solitude.

1 comment:

  1. Bingo Trapper fan right here in Fresno, California!