Fruit Bats Delivers Tasty Treat of Indie Folk and Americana

17 Nov

Formed in 1997 in Chicago, Fruit Bats carved a niche in the resurgence of indie folk and Americana that marked that time in the U.S. music scene. Fruit Bats’ frontman Eric D. Johnson taught music at The Old Town School of Folk Music, led a space-rock band with the super-cool name of I Rowboat, and was a contributing guitarist to a number of other bands such as the Shins and Califone.

In 2001, Fruit Bats released its debut album, Echolocation. The band followed that with four additional albums, most recently Tripper in 2011. Some time later, Johnson and his wife faced personal tragedy when they lost a child she had been carrying in the first trimester. At age 40, there was little opportunity to try again.

Johnson was so affected by the pain that he announced that Fruit Bats was finished, and later released a solo album under his own name with songs that largely dealt with the grief.

In the process of working through the tragedy, Johnson realized how much Fruit Bats meant to him, and he began writing songs for a new album. The result is Absolute Loser, which sounds as if it could be depressing, but is actually a fresh and honest take on the indie folk and Americana that the band has always been known for.

The album opens with “From a Soon-to-Be-Ghost Town,” an upbeat, toe-tapping piece of Americana marked by strumming guitar, a busy bass line, rolling piano, and Johnson’s reassuring vocals. It’s also got a great electric guitar solo in the lead break like something right out of the Allman Brothers.

“Humbug Mountain Song” is a bouncy, fun, foot-stomping number with banjo running throughout. It shows off Johnson’s proficiency with the instrument and has great hooks, so you’ll find yourself humming (humbugging?) the melody long after the CD ends.

Skipping ahead to “Birthday Drunk,” you get a slower-tempo anthem that includes layers of strings supporting the guitars, piano and drums. In fact, for all their simplicity, the tunes on the album are often intricately layered, with “some tracks incorporating up to ten guitar tracks layered on top of each other,” according to the band’s website.

Another mellow tune is “It Must Be Easy.” The lyrics provide a window into Johnson’s soul, which makes Fruit Bats more than just another indie folk group. Johnson sings, “It must be easy when they pay you to sing/Even easier when you’re not allowed to think about the things/That other people think/Life is easy when you’ve learned how to be/Even easier when you’re not haunted or tempted by dreams/Of how you’re supposed to be/Or what you’re supposed to need.”

If you’ve been a fan of Fruit Bats for some time, you’ll love this album. (In fact, you probably already have it, because it was released in May. We’re a little late with this!) But if you’re new to Fruit Bats, Absolute Loser will serve as a great introduction.

 

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