Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The anchor line of the song "Feather Bed," one of the late album tracks on "The Ruminant Band," the latest from Seattle's Fruit Bats, goes like this: "Everybody knows I depend on you to give me too much love, too much love, give me too much love, give me too much." It side-winds away from a person as the song comes to a close, like a kite tail caught in some serious, but harmless gusts. It whistles off into the ether, but it leaves a lasting taste and scent of how lead singer and songwriter Eric Johnson, now a new member of The Shins, writes his intricate, 60s-inspired pop songs - when pop songs were pieces of fine art and not mostly laughable and formulaic. They have the distinct ways about them that make them feel as if they've been preserved for decades in an air-tight cedar chest in a dusty attic, visited occasionally when the weather turns slightly unruly by the pittering and pattering of little mice paws on the wood floors. They are songs that have the texture and the loving spoonfuls of sugar and melody that that particular era of pop music was entrenched in. When Johnson writes, it feels as if we're lucky enough to be thrown back into time, into those dog-eared pages of Look magazines or Saturday Evening Posts, the air heavy with maple syrup or a duck cooking in the oven and a pile of logs popping in the fireplace and heating up the whole room. Johnson has a way of writing music that feels as if it might have come from a small shack that's equipped with a working oven, a kettle for coffee or tea, a small cot to sleep in, a suitable bathroom for those necessities, a warped and worn in floor, thick, thick rugs covering the ground and a barroom piano centered in the room - surrounded by all kinds of musical oddities and books, books, books. It's the kind of writing that will never go out of style - sharp and intelligent and covered in a sort of gentile swagger, a liberal coating of frosting. The title track to "The Ruminant Band," is awash in clever bursts of jangly and groovy guitar licks, plus a retro/modern mood that's big and boomy in all places. Johnson sings a number of lines that sound as if they could be personal morals or those plucked from the final paragraphs of various Hans Christian Anderson pieces. He sings, "You will always have smokes if you give buckets of love…/You won't lose the beat if you keep clapping your hands…/You'll always eat bread if you have seeds to sow," rippling the words with the same kind of gorgeous and slightly lady-like voice that we find so lovely in Brendan Benson's throat as well. There is a wonderful handsomeness to all of these odes - the rocking ones and the ones that feel as if they're nesting in a big ball of morning light - that make them feel as if they were lost puppies needing homes. But they're independent and striking in their simple flames and their easy melodies are beyond reproach. Johnson tackles the theme of love - or is tackled by the theme of love - with the acceptance of a minister, as if he's been sent here for this particular and very specific reason, to explain these wrinkles and these elations with all of his faculties. Sam Cooke sings about the grapes that are meant for the vine and the apples that are meant for the tree and Johnson sings that he'll be "the sweetest apple on your tree," taking the sentiment just a little further. He extends his belief in love - the sweet love, the overpowering kind that paralyzes and turns men and women drunk - to being "the lump of sugar in your tea," to anything that the woman will find to be sweet in her life. It's an old way of looking at it - without pessimism, without axes to grind with the concept of love. He is still amazed by it and even when he sings, "She never loved him back/It was never even close," he's still filled with wonder in the whole thing, bitten by it.
Fruit Bats Official Site
Sub Pop Records