A slew of records into his career and Eric D. Johnson returns with his outfit Fruit Bats to release The Ruminant Band on Sub Pop. Splitting time between Chicago and Portland, you can really feel the regional influences shine through on this album, filled with the wooded folk one would expect from the Northwest mixed with the quality production and warmth you’d find from like-minded bands in the Midwest.
Opening the album with a gentle folk number that rolls through the hills of your mind is where you first meet the voice of Eric D. Johnson. As his voices rises and falls with the gentle acoustic work of the guitar, you will find yourself falling in love with him. When “The Ruminant Band” takes over the stereo from here, Johnson’s voice takes you somewhere entirely close to home, echoing with familiarity. It’s one of the gentlest songs of the year, but one that definitely should make plenty of lists at the end of the year.
As energized as the album begins, or at least as far as one can go with this style of music, it begins to take a softer slide into the latter half of the album. “Beautiful Morning Light” recalls a touch, and only a touch, of Wilco. The acoustic number is carried by the perfect range that is Johnson’s voice, which seems to be the dominating theme on the album. It’s hard not to admire the vocal quality here when so many other bands are coating their lyrics and feedback and reverb.
“The Hobo Girl” is a mid-album stomper, in the midst of the softer side of things, that immediately recalls recent work from Dr. Dog, which is due to the saloon-style piano that serves as the backbone of the song. The song even features flourishes of barroom discussion included to give a little texture. Not sure why it’s necessary, but it makes it hard to get away from resemblances. “Being On Our Own” is another song in the same vein as the previous one, but done with a little bit more of a Southern flourish to the vocals. Set here in the middle of the album they provide the perfect pacing balance for the whole of the album.
The understated highlight of the album definitely has to be “Singing Joy to the World.” Every instrument merely exists to bring out the melody and inflection in Eric’s voice, and it’s short time span makes it go along almost unnoticeable in comparison to the rest of the record. Be sure not to miss this song, as you’ll be sore once you discover it’s the secret gem of the record.
Musically, The Ruminant Band is not full of anything that particularly jumps out at you as incredible feats of musicianship, yet the strengths of the group lie in that fact. Every song exists as a tool to help Johnson’s voice succeed in the ears of the listener, and in that fact, the Fruit Bats have done an exceptional job carrying out a wonderful album.
Download: Fruit Bats – Singing Joy to the World [MP3]
Fruit Bats will be playing in Austin September 2nd at the Mohawk.