High up on the short list of slightly-under-the-radar CDs that were among the best of 2008 and are sounding even better in 2009 is

Furr,

the fourth album by Blitzen Trapper, the indie sextet that plays Sunday at the First Unitarian Church.

Furr wasn't the first big creative breakthrough for this Portland, Ore., group: For that, you can go back to 2007's Wild Mountain Nation, a frenzied mash-up of everything from glittery glam rock to sober-minded Appalachian folk that recalled '90s alt-rock gods Pavement in its no-attention-span turn-on-a-dime juxtapositions.

In comparison, Furr, as Blitzen singer-songwriter and creative visionary Eric Earley admits, is a "calmer" enterprise.

"There was a frenetic feel on Wild Mountain Nation, more of a punk vibe," says Earley, speaking on the phone from his home before heading out on the road with fellow Portlander (and Joanna Newsom protege) Alela Diane. "With Furr, I wanted to do a record that was more about songwriting, with more conventional early-'70s-style production."

Earley also wanted to infuse some weighty ideas about people's everyday striving for spiritual sustenance, which he does quite successfully - and without a heavy hand - on Furr tracks like the Beatles-y opener "Sleepytime in the Western World" and two-sided coin of "God & Suicide."

"It all goes back to the ideas that were talked about by French philosophers, and Freud," he says, "that people have an urge towards transcendence, and also an urge towards death. Making music, and having children, are ways to try to find transcendence. And suicide is just the opposite side of that, and not necessarily killing yourself, but just the urge toward self-destruction."

Earley, who's 31 and a lifelong Oregonian, is a prolific guy, hard at work already on BT's fifth album, which he hopes will be released later this year. "It has more elements of hard rock in it. It sounds kind of like if the Beatles and Led Zeppelin made an album together."

"I listen to all kinds of stuff, or different genres of music," Earley says. "And really, anything that grew out of blues and Appalachian folk music aren't even different genres. They're all connected. Every time, I'm just really trying to make a Neil Young record. And then it ends up sounding like a lot of different things."

Blitzen Trapper performs with Alela Diane at 8 p.m. Sunday at the First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. Tickets: $12. Phone: 866-468-7619, www.r5productions.com

Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inthemix