Blitzen Trapper “100s of 100s, Millions of Billions”

Yep Roc Records, 2024

On their eleventh album, the Oregon band continue their exploration of Buddhist teachings and how they inform our very existence.

Cover art Blitzen Trapper album May 24The man behind Blitzen Trapper is Eric Earley, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and meditator. Blitzen Trapper (BT) started in 2003 just after the demise of his previous band Garmonbozia (a creamed corn substance that appeared in the series ‘Twin Peaks’ apparently).  BT was named after a metal paper clasp (Trapper Keeper) that an early girlfriend of Earley’s covered in reindeer pictures, notably of her favourite, Blitzen – and hence….

Earley is a recent student of Buddhist writings and teachings and his two latest albums are dotted with existential songs about the purpose of life and the nature of existence, with some initially imprenetrable titles – ‘Masonic Temple Microdose #1‘ and the title track of ‘Holy Smokes Future Jokes’ (2020). The new album ‘100s of 1000s, millions of billions’ attempts to cope with the vastness of numbers that are almost impossible to understand (the title comes from Buddhist readings, and lyrically the songs address concepts such as the cosmos, rebirth, dreams of illusion, the inevitability of love , ‘the one true currency of life’ – all wrapped up on this album in titles such as ‘Cheap Fantastical Takedown’, ‘Dead God of the Green Arising’ and ‘The Bear’s Head/At the Cove‘.  It invites listeners to unravel the riddles for themselves. In similar vein to  their last outing, the new album is a jaunty offering of mostly upbeat songs with a pop sensibility but incorporating all the usual Americana traits that have made the group an AUK favourite over the years – indie folk, country rock, some early pre-2000 sounds but with modern often quasi-psychedelic production values, absorbing songwriting, and so on. Earley focuses in some of the songs on his earlier life, driven by the discovery of old cassette tapes that he used as the musical basis for a few of the tracks – “When I was young everything that they told me was wrong / The only kind of magic’s when the radio’s on”  from ‘Cosmic Backseat Education’ .  These, together with his growing interest in Buddhism, reignited his creative juices after an enforced break (due to COVID), and delivered the album title.  During the downtime he also worked (and still does) with the homeless in Portland, Oregon where he and the band reside.

Musically, influences abound, with elements of Wilco, Jayhawks, Ron Sexsmith, Neil Young even, and maybe especially The Beatles, and all the tunes are uniformly catchy, beautifully produced (by Earley) with glorious layers of acoustic, electric, echoey and reverbed guitars, and swirling keyboards, merging the intimate acoustic settings with modern electronic embellishments.  Michael Elson adds some nice keyboard sounds, including the start of the opener ‘Ain’t got time to Fight’, with churchlike organ opening into a church chorus for just a second or two before Earley enters with his guitars and then drums and bass kick in at the start of the second verse – it’s beautiful stuff, as are many of the tracks. This opener addresses the hopelessness of fighting against love. Love is also the theme of ‘Hesher in the Rain’ and the exploration of loss, as a heavy metal drummer gives up love to return to his music thousands of miles away.  The very short ‘So Divine’ has a Cockney Rebel feel to it. The very lovely ‘Planetarium’ has the talents of Anna Tivel, violin throughout, and Eric Johnson (Bonny Light Horsemen), on banjo, and vocals, and is about the universe as self and self as the universe, deriving from explorations in Buddhism and attendant therapy and meditation.

Hello Hallelujah‘ is another fine track about various illusions that Earley has dreamed about at night, while ‘Long Game’ has a very Lennon/McCartney vibe circa ‘The White Album‘.  Early memories feature in ‘View from Jackson Hill’, an early place of residence with old friends, and in ‘Upon the Chain‘, about a felonous family member- “My uncle broke out of the chain gang / He stole a station wagon somewhere in the Palo Verde / He drove back thinking about his girl up on the hill / With her needle and her spoon / And her kisses were like the moon”

Earley’s ability to throw out earworms is uncanny which leads the listener to be drawn initially to the music but it is on repeated listens that the lyrics will deliver their soul. This is an excellent album.

8/10
8/10

About FredArnold 59 Articles
Lifelong fan of predominantly US (and Canadian) country roots music. Previously an avid concert-goer before wives, kids and dogs got in the way- and although I still try to get to several, my preference for small independent venues often means standing, and that ain't too good for my ancient bones!! Still, a healthy and catholic music collection helps ease the pain
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