Twenty years into it, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper have dipped their toes into everything from Country, Rock, Pop and Folk across 10 records. In 2020 they’ve settled into a solid, comfortably satisfying mix incorporating pretty much all of the above.
Holy Smokes Future Jokes, their first album for Yep Roc, finds the band exploring some trippy themes lyrically, but delivering it in a familiar musical wrapping. Songwriter/frontman Eric Earley drew a lot of inspiration for the songs here from the experimental novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which in turn draws inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Confused? Regardless the album, much like the surreal novel deals a lot with death, loss and what happens next. The fact that the band can tackle those subjects without the album coming across as weighty and foreboding is simply impressive.
The topics may be heavy, but Blitzen Trapper’s seemingly effortless knack for writing breezy indie pop songs make the themes go down easier. Tracks like “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” and the brisk, catchy title track are clearly standouts. Elsewhere, on the violin-backed lyrically surreal “Dead Billie Jean” or the more serious neo folk of “Bardo’s Light (Ouija, Ouija)” or the Tom Petty-esque closing track “Hazy Morning” the band show how they have managed to keep it creative two decades into it.
With Holy Smokes Future Jokes, Blitzen Trapper are way beyond needing to prove anything to fans and critics. At this point, they’re simply focused on writing good records and it rarely gets better than this one.