“Wouldn’t it Be Spooky if Holy Smokes Future Jokes Ended up Being Blitzen Trapper’s Swan Song?”

It all happened pretty fast, you’ve gotta admit. I remember the Pitchfork “Best New Music” placement for Wild Mountain Nation (2007), an album I could never seem to wrap my mind fully around. I recall how this energy bled into the succinct, near-perfect Furr (2008), and its killer energetic yin/yang of “Black River Killer” and “Stolen Shoes & A Rifle.” And I remember cokemachineglow.com (a site which once rejected my writing and so holds a sort of spiny place in my heart) throwing them under the bus by American Goldwing (2012), already requiring androgyny and unflagging tension for manifest merit. 

But rock and roll is androgynous, at its heart, intrinsically: its devotion requires a certain abandon of the ego and immersion within the chordal craft, which mimics femininity, in a sense. And American Goldwing happens to be a pliable, stalwart cluster of roots rock and roll, or something thereabouts, dubbed “classic rock” by Coke Machine as if some plaint of stadium bombast or oblong “epic” or “concept album” malady, which would definitely be the furthest thing from the truth. 

Anyway, this gets me to my primary point about this band: they’re pretty much on the front lines of the underrated/underappreciated 21st century musician. As reports Eye on Sun Valley, singer Eric Earley works a day job to this day, as a “caseworker at a homeless shelter,” no less, which perhaps would explain the trenchant sense of urgency their albums have seemed to carry, coming to an eerie, magnificent head on their last effort, Holy Smokes Future Jokes (2020). 

Now, this is an album which came out to pretty much zero fanfare, which would be egregious enough if not for the fact that we were wedged in the COVID shutdown at the time, and so should have been chomping at the bit for any new aural culture. The album even possesses a newfound, dark tinge, as well, making itself appropriate for that year, with considerably more minor intervals and dark, foreboding sentiment, as in the centerpiece “Bardo’s Light (Ouija, Ouija)” and its declaration that “We recognize the devil’s face / In the one we love”. In this way, it occupies completely singular territory within this band’s history — actually my least-favorite track is probably “Requiem,” a border-line-cheesy hippie anthem with the sort of mindless simplicity that appeals to fans of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” There was some report about the album having been inspired by some Eastern, religious tenet or theme of some sort. Whether or not this is the case, this is an LP that’s approachable and doesn’t require any spiritual perspective for enjoyment — just a little appreciation for rock and roll, for rhythm and chord progression and some good ol’ folk crooning. But then, ignoring a burning candle, or taking for granted that it will go on always burning without any fanning or kindling, is a great way to snuff a candle out. 


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