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Listen: At Home With WEXT - Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley

Singer-songwriters have been tackling existential questions about life and death since time immemorial… or at least the 1960s. But when it came to Blitzen Trapper’s newest album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, front man Eric Earley looked beyond mere existence—or even the end of it—to contend with grander cosmic explorations: namely, the intermediate period between a person’s separate lives on earth, “and what it means to escape the cycle of birth and rebirth,” he explains.

Weighty stuff, to say the least. But then again, Blitzen Trapper has never been the type of band to just skim the surface. Over the course of 20 years and ten full-length albums, the Portland, Oregon-hailing act, with singer, songwriter and guitarist Earley firmly at the helm, has crafted a singular catalog of songs—sometimes wrapped in impressionistic imagery and scruffy, singalong melodies (the fan favorite “Furr,” for just one example), and other times rendered in sharp-focus, needlepoint detail and imbued with driving, electrified rhythms (“Cadillac Road,” about a depressed and deserted mill town in the Oregon mountains where Earley’s father once worked, comes to mind here)— that celebrate the human experience in all its triumph and tragedy.

Holy Smokes Future Jokes is a record that follows where Earleys head is at these days, taking inspiration from several texts, among them George Saunders' 2017 experimental tome, Lincoln in the Bardo and Bardo Thodol, more commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There’s an inherent otherworldliness to much of the lyrics and imagery on Holy Smokes Future Jokes. But the music, in contrast, is rooted in a considerably more earthy folk-rock sensibility, and centered around acoustic instrumentation. “A lot of it is fingerpicked guitars and stuff like that,” Earley says.