Fruit Bats: Sub Pop’s sweet secret

Mike Morrone

Fruit Bats, an indie pop rock three piece group from Chicago, released “Spelled in Bones” over the summer. Their second release off of Seattle’s Sub Pop imprint, the Bats offer accessible songs that are heavy on melody yet resonate more than other throwaway summer releases.

Frontman Eric Johnson, the only constant in Fruit Bats since its inception, writes expansive songs involving intriguing mixes of vocals, guitar, banjo, pianos, synthesizers, as well as flourishes of steel lap guitar intermittently. The sounds of Fruit Bats resemble the Shins (which shouldn’t surprise since they have opened for the Albuquerque, N.M. quartet now famous for writing songs “that change your life”) as well as Early Thrills or local darlings, the A-Sides. Much like the Shins, Johnson and his songs frequently offer thoughtful, first-person accounts of the frailty of the human experience.

“Lives of Crime,” the album opener, starts with upbeat guitar strumming, perfect for driving with the windows opened and the top down, either across state lines or just to the local convenience store. Johnson lazily yet efficiently pleads with his audience to have the heart of a lion as well as the lungs of a whale. The drumming of John Bryce and the persuasive guitar parts of Dan Strack only enhance his elegant songs and overall eloquence. Silent Life offers the nostalgic combination of excitement and mystery similar to childhood exploration in the woods or near a creek, and under 3:30 to boot.

The fourth and fifth tracks of “Spelled in Bones,” “Canyon Girl” and “Born in the ’70s,” respectively, are two undeniable highlights on an album full of strong compositions. “Canyon Girl” starts with piano chords and the introspective statement of belonging to a fictional world one has no business being in. An eerie middle section only adds to the urgency. Vocal layering and harmonies enhance the wistful, end of summer mood, and Johnson pleads, to himself or his Canyon Girl, to not return to the wind and the cold and the snow/the darkest places that have been. “Born in the ’70s” plods along at a trot, then surprises with falsettos similar to Elton John, one icon of that aforementioned decade.

Overall, the sweet moments outweigh the bitter, and if there would be one criticism, it would be that the album begins to seem a little too similar towards the end. But “Spelled in Bones” never outstays its welcome and is perfect for the introspective times at the end of summer vacation, with another period of school or work staring you directly in the face. A strong set of songs at the absolutely correct time.