Fruit Bats’ Spelled in Bones and Mouthfuls are two of this writer’s favorite contemporary records so I was expecting another brilliant appearance from singer-songwriter Eric Johnson but Tripper is so pleasantly beyond that, one can not help but gush. Johnson’s approach to the group’s fifth LP is dreamy with echoed space with a naturalist ambience. His vocals hit the highest falsetto this side of a Robin Thicke tribute to the ladies but the elevation doesn’t play like an effort to mix up what we know and love about the uber-happy picnic pop Fruit Bats. It’s more like Johnson dug deep into the genre of his birth decade and stretched it out like gooey putty. Think a way more subdued MGMT with the experimental sophistication of The Flaming Lips and the ease of The Elected.
Johnson’s participation in legions of indie rock bands (The Shins, Califone, and Vetiver), and now indie film, backs Fruit Bats’ continued growth even after ten plus years of record-making. Yet with all the growth and homage, Fruit Bats are as much a classic band as any other group out there. And we don’t say classic lightly. Here, classic means both truly sincere and wonderfully understated. It means fresh and it means reverent. It pays attention to the basics of good songwriting: melody and lyrics (tops for this writer) but picks up tips from modern music magic – cavernous reverb (especially on the slow and the sultry “So Long”) and builds on the seventies throwback Spelled in Bones began.
Taking that seventies nod to the hilt, “You’re Too Weird” is the record’s highlight among many others deserving of weighty superlatives. Here, Johnson gets all hands-in-pockets thoughtful asking what to do for his lady and reminds her, over and over, “I’m the only one who ever believed in you,” but with his butterscotch tone we never feel he’s going to get all Chris Brown on this mystery lady. He just wants answers! It’s what Johnson does best – he croons the pain of life’s purposeless necessity with such clarity and beauty that we can listen again with no instinctual drive to stab ourselves with nearby objects.
But where Tripper goes astray from the loose disco-rock theme is also where it gets its depth. On the spooky, “Wild Honey” and the minimalist but spacious “The Fen,” the record gives us songs less aimed at getting us to grab some skates and shake it around a pool in the Valley and more at exploring the moments after that party. When the sun is coming up and all we have left is the budding of a hangover and the memories of some sad missed moments, Tripper is at its peak.
Fruit Bats - Live - April 12, 2006
Fruit Bats / Sera Cahoone - Live - February 3, 2009
Fruit Bats - Live - August 26, 2009
Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band
Fruit Bats - Spelled in Bones
More by this writer:
The Dodos - No Color
Radar Brothers - The IllustratedGarden
The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away