Now, just to explicate what I’m talking about here, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, the 10th studio album by Blitzen Trapper, came out in September 2020, almost a year before I’m writing this. So the “dark times” aspect I’m referring to pertains specifically to the shutdown, which was in its absolute throes then, obviously, and of which we’re still feeling wafts today. So by “dark times” I’m not referring to like the fact that Cardi B is a star or whatever, not to preclude others from doing just that, of course.
But in the wake of this pandemic crisis, or in the troughs of it, if you prefer, it’s like we’ve all been steeled a little bit, specifically before the sort of mental plague that makes you miss your everyday life and wonder if everything will ever return to normal again. With this being the case, the first time I sat down to listen to Holy Smokes Future Jokes it didn’t strike me as dark — all of the minor chords juxtaposed with relatively victorious choruses, the subdued tone, the lack of lively, animated lyricism, all seemed pretty par for the course. It was only when I went back to give Wild Mountain Nation, their commercial breakthrough from ’07, a rehash, that the brilliant phenomenological ominousness of their new one hit me.
And sure, I’ve seen this band discarded as conventional, or excessively adhering to classic rock, on the blogosphere, particularly by the nauseatingly snobby former journal cokemachineglow.com. And there was a brief time when I thought they were falling into a sort of a trap of monochromatic sameness. But if you know who you are and you get up and do it, is that really a trap? I think I found VII just awful and then All across This Land just a little bit selfsame but Wild and Reckless pretty vital and exciting and what’s more, composed of intriguing layers, in establishing an upbeat, boogie-ing rock outfit on the first two tracks to then descend into the most contemplative, though still beautiful, acoustic darkness on “Joanna.” Similarly, rather than settling into an expedited, simplistic blueprint of foreboding, their brilliant new album (or it’s new to me at least, ahem) similarly mixes in a beautiful sense of emotional variety. Actually, its first six tracks alone would comprise a perfect, classic EP, if spliced into such, with the first four tracks tiptoeing along a la grandiose pain and reflection and “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” inviting in the levity of a brisker pace and the suggestion “Let’s break into the Masonic Temple tonight”. Things then come to a robustly satisfying head on “Requiem” in a way that you probably wouldn’t even expect but in fact makes stalwart sense and forms a commendable album centerpiece. The song opens with the love paean of “I like the way you roll / Honey you’re made of solid gold”, dedicated to whomever, I’m not sure. Things then fall almost immediately into a delicious chorus: “Shine a light / Shine a light through the dark day”, all rendered in awesomely simple and bare acoustic rock, with a guitar that sounds like acoustic/electric being only the second instrument in the mix, entering for a brief solo following the second chorus. To me, Holy Smokes Future Jokes is a classic album, Blitzen Trapper’s best to date, in fact, although it’s certainly apples and oranges. Hey, at least it doesn’t have “Love U” on it. And yes, I’m a little bit peeved at the blogosphere for missing the singular brilliance of this LP, on an emotional level, only bolstered by the cinematic idea that Eric Earley might have written all these songs at the absolute pinnacle of the shutdown, sequestered in his house and relegated to a mask in public, all the more catering to the shutdown-adjacent times from which I’m dispatching this.