But, like similar freak-flag flyers Akron/Family, there's no denying that despite its eccentricity, Blitzen Trapper is a well-honed musical unit. Based in Portland, Ore., the indie-rock sextet plays a wide-ranging style of music--from stoner country to psychedelic pop to avant-garde noodling--that even as it is perplexing is always fascinating.
When asked to describe Blitzen Trapper's sound--because so many writers, including me, have tried and failed to nail it down--Koch was ably assisted by kibitzing bandmates as he riffed, "we like to call it 'future cream pop' ... blue jazz and free love with kittens ... trucker barbershop."
OK. I guess that's a little more helpful than the band's bio, which cites influences such as "dusty bones, sunrise, Philip K. Dick, 'Guernica,' barley wine, sycamore or doug fir, snowflake, Sally Mack's School of Dance, Scooby Doo, bigfoot."
Blitzen Trapper is scheduled to play Monday, Oct. 15, at Plush. The band will appear on stage in between opening act Songs for Moms and the well-regarded headliner Two Gallants.
Despite Blitzen Trapper's whimsical approach and tendency to joke around a bit, the title track from its latest album, Wild Mountain Nation, sounds for all the world like an unironic manifesto about living in harmony with the Earth and embracing love, all in the context of one of The Grateful Dead's more melodic and less meandering standards, à la Workingman's Dead or American Beauty.
In a testament to the band's catholic tastes, it includes that song with two other, vastly different tracks on its MySpace site. Following "Wild Mountain Nation" is "Cool Love No. 1" (an upcoming 7-inch single release), which sounds like a union of genuinely earnest early-'80s power-pop and amphetamine glam-rock energy, leavened with a hint of steel-guitar twang, while the quirky white-boy funk of "Love I Exclaim" (from 2004's Field Rexx) calls to mind Cake or Barenaked Ladies.
The new album kicks off with more postmodern dada in the form of the Beckish "Devil's a-Go-Go," and it includes some gentle Day-Glo Beatles-meets-XTC pop ("Futures and Folly"), psychedelic skronk ("Miss Spiritual Tramp") and Zappa-meets-Sun Ra marching band ("Woof and Warp of the Quiet Giant's Hem").
Among the strongest tunes are "Murder Babe," which recalls early Pink Floyd and the Canterbury-scene prog rock of Soft Machine, and "Country Caravan," which returns to the loping country pattern of the title song, but with a rockin' assertiveness, not unlike Wilco's early work.
All of it, though, sounds like a loaf of good, homemade bread tastes: fresh, raw and real. No pre-packaged, artificial ingredients here.
Koch didn't disagree during the interview. "I feel like there is a lot of thought and love put into Eric's songwriting. Maybe you're feeling that."
"Eric" would be vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Eric Earley.
"Eric has pretty wide-ranging musical tastes," Koch continued. "But so do we all. Before this band, we played rock, folk, noise, a little metal. I had a punk background myself."
Although they formed in Portland in 2000, all but one of the members of Blitzen Trapper hail from smaller Salem, Ore., Koch said. (Guitarist and keyboardist Marty Marquis hails from Yakima, Wash.)
Their main motivation in heading to Portland was simply "to get the hell out of Salem."
Blitzen Trapper has released three albums, including a self-titled debut in 2003, on their independent label LidKerCow Ltd. But reports tell us that the group signed with the influential Seattle-based label Sub Pop Records this past summer, after the release of Wild Mountain Nation and subsequent critical accolades.
Asked if the back-to the-garden message of "Wild Mountain Nation" constitutes a manifesto of sorts, Koch confirmed only that he and the other band members "love the outdoors, and we love to play sports, and we like picnics."
He did, however, concede that Blitzen Trapper does share a collective philosophy about making music: "We like to do it all the time. We like to make as much music as possible."