A beautifully uncluttered, ethereal fifth album from Eric D. Johnson and friends.
Rob Crossan 2011
You can almost hear the bronchial cough of dogs echoing around a vista of deserted gas stations, hot asphalt and dustbowl scrub on this, Fruit Bats’ fifth album – and their most affecting yet.
Considerably more introspective than 2009’s Ruminant Band long-player, this is to all intents and purposes a solo affair by frontman Eric D. Johnson, who has based the entire album on a bus journey he made to South Dakota a decade ago, alongside a cantankerous hobo.
Characters like Tony the Tripper, the aforementioned itinerant, are present throughout the album with Johnson playing the sympathetic narrator. Other rambling capitalist refuseniks pop up, such as Dolly – of whom, on the track of the same name, he tells, "I know he’s an easy meal, but you know you’ve gotta ramble / You know that it’s a big world. Just say it’s done."
The backdrop to these tales is one smothered with low humming synths and sun-drenched percussion that occasionally, on tracks like Heart Like an Orange, become touched by the chill of a northern state’s winter. Johnson paints the scene well: "In this little town there’s no singing allowed / No one smiles much and no one makes out and no one smokes down." The lure of the open road, sunnier climates and opportunities to be grabbed slithers through songs like this with the same stunted hope as Steinbeck and Kerouac wrote about half a century ago.
The Banishment Song is the album’s most striking moment – a slowly rising crescendo of pianos and organs that provides a suitably pained accompaniment to Johnson’s tale of a friendship ending under the bitterest of circumstances. "You’re no longer welcome here," he hectors in falsetto; "You bent the rules so hard they broke / You paid us no dues, you made us a joke."
Doomed perhaps to always sit in the shadow of Fleet Foxes, Fruit Bats have nonetheless crafted a beautifully uncluttered, ethereal album. It’s full of the kind of heavy textures and atmospheric nuances that explain exactly why Johnson is also a movie soundtrack composer of increasing repute.