May 22, 2005

Milton Mapes "Blacklight Trap"

We named Milton Mapes' second full length, Westernaire, one of the best records of 2003, and we stand by that claim. A heady mix of dusty atmospherics, country melancholy and rock power, it's a seamless record that stands on its own and has yet to lose any of the overwhelming power that makes it so beautiful. Comparisons were made to both Radiohead and Bruce Springsteen, and those comparisons are apt; Milton Mapes mastermind Greg Vanderpool certainly bridged the gap between the two. Their sound isn't exactly rock, it's not quite country, and it's not, either--it's a heady blend of all of those elements.

It's obvious that Vanderpool and company were quite happy with Westernaire, because The Blacklight Trap is more of a modification than a maturation. It's not to say that The Blacklight Trap is merely a retread; it's simply a band lingering a little bit longer with ideas that were quite appealing and interesting the first time around. On The Blacklight Trap, Vanderpool and company expand upon the darker, atmospheric moments of their previous two records, but they've lost the elements that were a bit more Britpop-influenced, opting instead for a dustier, more American-sounding style, similar in nature to Son Volt or the more stoned-out moments of Built to Spill. Don't worry, though, because they can still make a great racket; "Thunderbird" has the great guitar riff that any song by that name should have, "When The Earth's Last Picture Is Painted" is a tough, powerful song that Doug Martsch should be all too happy to devise, and "Tornado Weather" is Neil Young's lost masterpiece.

Despite The Blacklight Trap's rawer sound, Vanderpool and the band are in fine form, and the songs convey a powerful image of a simple life in a dusty, sun-drenched West Texas town. Vanderpool sings with a rough but appealing voice that gives his songs a more honest feel, and his voice still has the air of melancholy that's been present on all of his previous records. From the self-explanitory "Waiting for Love to Fail" to "Underneath the River Runs," a song about visiting the scene of a mass murder, Vanderpool's songs are sad and heartbreaking, and it's quite clear that the band's melancholy side hasn't dissipated in the least.

If you loved Westernaire, then you're gonna love The Blacklight Trap. A follow-up to such a great record would be a daunting task for any artist, especially considering how eagerly anticipated it would be. The Blacklight Trap doesn't quite make it to Westernaire's peak. Instead, Vanderpool simply builds on the things that made that record great, and Milton Mapes is still a treasure for those who know.

--Joseph Kyle

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