Fruit Bats

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Echolocation , 6/10
Mouthfuls , 6/10
Spelled In Bones (2005), 4/10
Ruminant Band (2009), 5/10
Tripper (2011), 4/10

Fruit Bats' Echolocation (Perishable, 2000) is the creature of singer and guitarist Eric Johnson (based in Chicago). The album features everything from piano to banjo, from marimba to clarinet, from mandolin to pedal steel, from ukulele to crickets... The arsenal is a little wasted, as Johnson plays mainly lazy, laid-back campfire ballads steeped in the rural tradition, from the plaintive opener, The Old Black Hole, to the Dylan-ian dirges Need It Just A Little and Filthy Water, to the charming Blue Parachute. His melodic talent transpires from Glass In Your Feet, a sublime barbershop aria that Johnson yodels to the strumming of ukulele and banjo, from the merry refrain of Buffalo & Deer, set to a pow-wow beat, and from the sprightly country rigmarole of A Dodo Egg. His genius for arrangements is largely invisible, as the prettiest orchestrations last only one or two minutes. Johnson has the means to become a unique voice, but has to realize that his main assett is not the singing, it's the orchestrating.

Mouthfuls (Subpop, 2003) delivers another batch of acoustic gems in this hunble, understated, soulful vein. Rainbow Sign lingers with sunny guitar strumming, tender piano tinkling and ecstatic backing vocals. Echoes of Everly Brothers' lullabies surface in Magic Hour, amid hushed organ, weeping guitars, tambourines, mandolins, etc. Johnson's delivery and arrangements can easily veer into more experimental territory. The lazy and ethereal Track Rabbits is not even sung, just hummed, bordering on David Crosby's psychedelic trips. The dreamy mantra of Slipping Through The Sensors has a similar otherwordly quality.
Given the amount of pensiveness and impressionism, Johnson is masterful in avoiding to be cornered in the "depressed and languid" category with the likes of Nick Drake. And thus A Bit Of Wind adds more rhythm, spunkier vocals, bluesy guitar counterpoint and even a solemn horn fanfare. Union Blanket weds a catchy litany with swamp beat, African syncopation and electronic sounds, evoking the vision of a futuristic jug band. The most upbeat number, When U Love Somebody, is a novelty full of stops and gags, rollicking at a feverish rhythm.

Spelled In Bones (Sub Pop, 2005) is a rather uneventful collection of trivial pop tunes, as groundbreaking as a MacDonald's hamburger. The piano ballad TV Waves, Traveler Song and the Shins-ian Legs of Bees are passable, but the rest is pure filler. This should have been a single, not an album.

A less pastoral mood permeates Ruminant Band (2009), with Primitive Man and The Hobo Girl hinting at a harder, rowdier saloon sound, and Ruminant Band venturing into jangling folk-rock.

Fruit Bats e` il progetto del cantante e chitarrista Eric Johnson di Chicago. Il primo album, Echolocation (Perishable, 2000), era arrangiato in maniera lambiccata (piano, banjo, marimba, clarinetto, mandolino, steel, ukulele, grilli...), ma lo spiegamento di mezzi era un po' sprecato (come spesso capita di questi tempi).

Mouthfuls (Subpop, 2003) rappresenta un passo avanti (se solo i musicisti aspettassero qualche anno prima di debuttare invece che entrare in studio appena capita l'occasione...). L'album contiene dieci gemme acustiche nella vena umile e dimessa del primo album, non lontane da cio` che facevano negli anni '50 e '60 gli Everly Brothers (Rainbow Sign, Magic Hour). Nei momenti migliori Johnson lambisce i climi magici ed eterei del primo David Crosby (Track Rabbits, Slipping Through The Sensors). Johnson riesce ad evitare nell'affollata categoria dei cantautori depressi e languidi alla Nick Drake grazie a brani piu` vivaci come A Bit Of Wind, When U Love Somebody e Union Blanket, che impiegano di tutto, dalle fanfare di New Orleans al ritmo di palude, dalla sincopazione africana all'elettronica.

Johnson joined the Shins in 2009 and the Fruit Bats project further deteriorated. Their Tripper (2011) sounds like a studio product that wasn't given enough care and attention. While there are songs that could have been interesting (You're Too Weird, the ambitious The Banishment Song), they lack passion and heart. (Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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