Portland’s Blitzen Trapper has spent the last two decades blending indie folk with shades of alt-country. Sometimes, like on 2017’s Wild and Reckless, the country is front and center. During the band’s Sub Pop heyday, it made the group stand out from the Pacific Northwest’s indie field and helped solidify its popularity and longevity. That’s why it’s more than a little disappointing that Holy Smokes Future Jokes has little of that genre-blending.
There’s not much, if any, discernible country influence and there’s barely any folk. What remains is a fairly standard indie rock album that takes more from shoegaze than anything else. This is where Blitzen Trapper and the album finds its best footing. There are occasional hints of slide guitar, though it’s tuned to sound like a component to the mellow pseudo-psychedelia. But it’s an unexpected hard turn from expectations that are sure to throw off longtime and casual fans alike.
The first single, “Magical Thinking,” is more or less representative of the album. It’s slow-paced and vaguely dreamy, with hints of folk in the guitar playing—but lo-fi rock elsewhere. The rest of the song list has essentially the same elements, but rearranged slightly.
The outlier is “Masonic Temple Microdose #1, which picks up the tempo and adds a grungier flair that’s not immediately recognizable as a Blitzen Trapper song but with some of the attitude Eric Earley, Erik Menteer, Brian Adrian Koch, Michael Van Pelt and Marty Marquis have brought to previous releases. “Requiem” also stands on its own but replaces the grunge influence with a jangly quality.
If Holy Smokes Future Jokes was released in the early or mid-2010s, it would fit snuggly into the steady steady stream of earnest folk rock. The musicianship and musicality on the entire album are top notch and the archetypes are honed to near-perfection. But the world has a lot of wistful, meandering rock bands writing songs destined to set the mood on “This is Us” or some other drama. A band with the history and talent of Blitzen Trapper is best served pushing forward, exploring new ways to blend the unexpected into novel sounds—and continue to inspire the next round of independent artists.
So it’s buyer beware for someone longing for classic Bitzen Trapper. That’s not really what you’re getting, and you’re better off sticking to their previous nine albums. But if you’re nostalgic for a time that’s both not that long ago and a lifetime ago—or if you’re scoring a commercial in which a young couple drives down a long country road while the person in the passenger seat looks thoughtfully out the window with her hair blowing in the wind, this is just what you need.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.