Release Date: Aug 4, 2009
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Since 2001’s Echolocation, Eric Johnson has been crafting songs that have mainly dealt with the natural world. His non-sentimental approach has been fresh and careful, exploring themes such as man vs. himself, man vs. nature and man vs. love, set to equally fresh sounds that often fuse acoustic ….
First things first: Fruit Bats sound deeply, deeply American. Bandleader Eric D. Johnson has played with the likes of Vetiver and The Shins over the years, so this shouldn’t come as any surprise. Indeed, there’s something of those bands’ easygoing strum to be found on The Ruminant Band, their fourth LP.
Sitting on Sub Pop since the label's early-oughts soft-rock land grab (think Postal Service, the Shins, Iron & Wine), Eric Johnson's Fruit Bats have chilled in those long shadows since 2002's Mouthfuls. Part of the reason of late is Johnson's own doing; the outfit has been dormant since 2005's breezy Laurel Canyon paean Spelled in Bones. Johnson himself has been plenty busy, though, between becoming the first non-Albuquerquean to play with Mercer & co., and sitting in with American Beauty acolytes and fellow Sup Popians Vetiver.
Eric Johnson has poked and prodded at the Fruit Bats for years, reinventing the band's lineup with every album and continually stretching the boundaries between pop, Americana, and sun-soaked folk. Released after a four-year hiatus, during which time Johnson worked as a sideman for Vetiver and the Shins, The Ruminant Band features yet another cast of characters, few of whom have worked with the Fruit Bats before. Nonetheless, this is a thoroughly collaborative release, featuring production from the band's own drummer and contributions from the whole five-piece family.
Fruit Bats’ sound—at its most potent and tuneful on 2003’s Mouthfuls—has always been tightly constructed. Melodies are sharp, even as the instruments coat songs in warm haze. Eric Johnson’s vocals are honeyed and swaying, but always coming at you with direct emotions, often unabashedly basking in the sun, rather than trudging through the mud of overt sadness.
Ruminants are mammals with 4 stomachs who can extract nutrients from grasses and hays that organisms with one stomach cannot. This is done by sending the grasses back to the mouth for more mastication after they have fermented in the first stomach for awhile. The new Fruit Bats album, The Ruminant Band, takes its title from these cud-chewers, and the characterization fits, as the band plays like a bunch of guys who have deeply digested the history of American music, and are regurgitating their results for the listener to chew on.