Release Date: Aug 2, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Sometime during 2009, professional bastard James Mercer apparently might have slightly fired the rest of The Shins a bit. He seems, by all accounts, to have gotten away with it. Odd though, that the righteously sniffy indie brigade took this act of bawling self-importance and betrayal - potential careerism - so keenly in their stride, isn’t it? For the band’s dearly departed - indeed, now all but swept off the radar - this whole ‘Ta for the years of blood, sweat and tears guys but you’re not actually conducive to my resounding genius right now’ thing was, well, surely, quite the - ahem - kick in the...
Spearheading the Sub Pop folk renaissance alongside Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper, the Chicago quartet play the kind of rootsy beard-rock on Tripper that’s beloved by guys in lumberjack shirts. Anchored by singer-guitarist (and Shins bassist) Eric D. Johnson, they pay tribute to mangy coyotes and train-hopping hobos over a lovely ramble-tamble you can tap your bare feet to.
The Ruminant Band sounded like a classic rock album, with its dueling Allman Brothers guitar solos and full-band harmonies. Tripper, the Fruit Bats’ 2011 follow-up, is more pared down, with bandleader Eric Johnson doing most of the legwork himself. Synthesizers and keyboard loops replace the knotted guitars. Atmospheric washes of sound replace the sunny, straightforward hooks.
Perhaps it is unfair that Eric Johnson and his band Fruit Bats continue to get overshadowed by other Sub Pop bands—before it was the Shins (whom he played with) and now it’s Fleet Foxes—or maybe it’s just further evidence of the arbitrary nature of buzz and popularity. Either way, the band’s music hasn’t suffered over its ten-year run. Fruit Bats’ last record, 2009’s The Ruminant Band was their best to date, a perfect distillation of their folky, sunburst sound.
Eric D. Johnson’s debut album under the Fruit Bats moniker, Echolocution, was released at a fortuitous time—at least in terms of the fickle inclinations of the quote-unquote indie rock community. In the early 2000s, many people listening to and critically analyzing independent music took warmly to various modern interpretations of folk music, and as a result, many artists that fit into this rather nebulous spectrum—Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart, The Shins, Joanna Newsom, et al—found themselves selling goodly amounts of records and concert tickets.
For a minute there, Fruit Bats rocked. On 2009's The Ruminant Band, the quartet, lead by seasoned indie sideman Eric D. Johnson (Califone, Vetiver, the Shins), eked up the tempo-- sidelining folksier impulses in favor of gently driving guitar pop that channeled Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac. Two years later, they're back to being mellow.
Over five albums, Fruit Bats' sole constant member, Eric D. Johnson, has carved out a niche with his beautifully crafted pop songs. Tripper continues to prove Johnson's songwriting ability, while also treading a more exploratory and experimental path than previous releases. Johnson used a full band for the initial recording process but then spent another month alone in the studio with producer Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Vetiver) shaping the songs.
In an age of hype machines and buzz bands, it’s unfortunate that consistently solid, thoroughly enjoyable artists such as Fruit Bats get tossed aside for the latest and greatest blogosphere sweethearts. Tripper, Fruit Bats‘ main man Eric D. Johnson’s fifth album in just over a decade under that moniker, is nothing short of the successes set forth by 2009’s sunny The Ruminant Band or 2001’s amiable debut, Echolocation.
Have you ever caught a buzz and kicked it with a total stranger at a friend-of-a-friend’s party? As the conversation ensues you realize that you have a handful of things in common so you wonder why you haven’t been best friends for the last ten years. Then you wake up the next day and forget that he/she exists. For me, Fruit Bats are the stranger and Sub Pop’s hosting the party.
Fruit Bats' fifth album Tripper is, well, it's a tricky one. At times, principle songwriter Eric D. Snider creates a wonderful, spacey pop-driven atmosphere -- one full of catchy hooks and bubbly acoustic guitar riffs that we, as listeners, never want to exit. But, at other times, this dreamy space just isn't there and the results are, frankly, kind of a mess.
In the current trend of music, which features heavy use of electronics and a dense, claustrophobic sound, Eric D. Johnson and company stubbornly refuse to follow. Like their previous releases, Fruit Bats stray very little from their original, classic sound that relies more heavily on the guitar rather than the MacBook. Maybe this is indeed a simple approach, yet it comes off as refreshingly alternative for those who have grown weary of the chillwave and dubstep movements taking over the music scene.
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.
Fruit Bats' comfortable identity as one of the more eclectic bands on the side of melodic folk-rock took an irrevocable twist in 2009 when the man around whom everything to do with this group revolves, Eric D. Johnson, announced he was to become a permanent member of The Shins. The fruits of his presence in that band remain yet to be seen, but by the sound of Tripper, Johnson's exposure to James Mercer's perfectionist and economical approach to pop music has resulted in an album that has largely smoothed over most of the rough edges that were such a charming part of Fruit Bats' previous album, The Ruminant Band.
Over the course of the 10 years that have elapsed since Fruit Bats released its first album, a rotating cast of musicians has shared the stage and the studio with frontman Eric D. Johnson. As a result, the past four albums have focused mainly on the singer/songwriter. But on Tripper, Johnson turns that formula around and focuses everything outward—the lyrical themes, the more-involved instrumentation and the mood.