Blitzen Trapper Expand Minds with Lyrically Complex ‘Holy Smokes, Future Jokes’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper, photographed in SE Portland in April 2020. Photo by Jason Quigley.

One of the great things about art is that you never know what will inspire an artist to create. For Blitzen Trapper on the new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes, the inspiration was Bardo. What’s Bardo? Well, it’s the transitional state between death and rebirth, thanks for asking. Wouldn’t it be difficult to write about something so indescribable? Probably, but that’s what Blitzen Trapper has done on the new album. Of the new album, singer Eric Earley said it’s about “what it means to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth.” Just with that quote, you can guess that you’re not in for the standard verse-chorus-verse sort of album.

Even if you don’t fully understand the concept of the album, you can’t help but notice a similarity to The Beatles in their later years when they started becoming more experimental in their sound. You can hear it in the mellow melodies that may sound simple at first, but then the more you listen the more you realize how much is going on sonically. You can also hear it in the rich vocal harmonies.

“Dead Billie Jean” is a great example of how complex these songs can be. This is something of a trippy song that features strings and mouth harp in addition to the standard instrumentation. The trippy nature of the song is enhanced by the lyrical reference to “smoking dope with Lincoln”.

This album is really hard to pin down. At times, it has a 60s folk feel of artists like Chad and Jeremy. At other times, you hear a pedal steel that lends a country feel. At still other times (like in “Masonic Temple Microdose 1”), you hear a similarity to Beck both in the musical structure and the vocal delivery.

Putting the concept of the album aside, Blitzen Trapper has succeeded in making a very complex album that is probably quite different than most new albums you’ll hear this year. The melodies are all mellow but unpredictable, and the vocal harmonies can’t be ignored. Artists have long written about expanding your mind, and this is a good album for that.

Photo by Jason Quigley

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