Blitzen Trapper | Holy Smokes Future Jokes | (Yep Roc)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
It has been a challenge keeping up with Portland, Oregon’s Blitzen Trapper over the past two decades. From their indie rock beginnings through a catalog that includes twisted folk, laid-back West Coast vibes, art-pop, country-tinged sounds, a rock opera and even a children’s album — all with a handful of label changes thrown in — it has been a head-spinning yet never boring ride.
Much of this is due to frontman/singer/songwriter Eric Earley, a guy who’s not short on new, challenging ideas to keep his band and followers guessing. Nothing changes for album No. 10.
The peculiarly titled disc is something of a song cycle concerned with “the bardo,” which we learn is the transitional period between death and rebirth. Earley explains the notion of “cosmic humility” he focuses his songwriting here on as “the idea that humanity is not the center of the universe, or even the center of our own universe.”
Those inclined can pore over his lyrics to these 10 tracks in hopes of untangling that theory. The rest can simply enjoy the intriguing, always tuneful folk rock that settles into a Dawes-meets-Stealers Wheel vibe, especially since Earley’s smoothly rolling voice is uncannily similar to that of Gerry Rafferty with a side of Mark Knopfler.
The tunes drift by, bolstered by acoustic guitars, creating a comfy, rustic groove where catchy choruses (like the one in “Requiem”) encourage us to “shine a light through the dark day.” Despite potentially alienating titles such as “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” (an early single), “Bardo’s Light (Ouija, Ouija)” and “Dead Billie Jean,” the overall genial musical mood beckons you back to enjoy their melodic delights. Maybe you’ll get closer to understanding lyrics like, “Does the howling of these dire wolves wake the dead/Or just the dogs?”
Or maybe not.
Either way, the head-scratching concepts go down easy for music that feels like a comforting warm breeze on a cool spring day.