Music Reviews

Fruit Bats Tripper

(Sub Pop) Rating - 5/10

Have you ever caught a buzz and kicked it with a total stranger at a friend-of-a-friend’s party? As the conversation ensues you realize that you have a handful of things in common so you wonder why you haven’t been best friends for the last ten years. Then you wake up the next day and forget that he/she exists. For me, Fruit Bats are the stranger and Sub Pop’s hosting the party. The commonalities plus booze make you feel closer than you really are. You’ve mingled with Eric D. Johnson before (The Shins, Califone) but the meeting never registers. He makes you feel comfortable and a tad guilty that you’ve overlooked his presence because others (Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine) are distracting you. Despite the kind regards and delightful exchange, this quintet fades into the shadows of its company. Still, when he sings, somebody needs to tell me what I’m supposed to do, in the standout single You’re Too Weird, a sloppy high-five confirms a delicious sense of obstructed love you both share. You like these guys, but you’ll never call them again. You have enough friends.

Fruit Bats have been around for about a decade, so in order to pump up my music proficiency ego, let’s say I’ve heard of them... subconsciously. I really wanted to be amazed by Tripper and slap myself on the wrist for unfairly pegging them as the underdog. My shining score of ‘5’ isn’t necessarily a poor rating; it acts more as a reflection of the perfect stranger analogy from above. A personal contradiction, if you will. It’s the friend you don’t need. The shoegaze effects over the 70’s rock influence makes for a charming vintage sound. However, when you’re giving a new album a try and passerby’s, who’ve also flew under the Fruit Bats radar, ask if you’re listening to an Andy Gibb revival band; it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is far from disco, but Johnson’s voice will either remind you of the Bee Gees or The Shins (insert your age here). The classic guitar riffs, like in starter Tony the Tripper, Tangie & Ray and Heart Like An Orange bring the folk forward. It’s conspicuously old-fashioned. The indie-rock side of the album is apparent in So Long, You’re Too Weird and Wild Honey; all stuffed with melancholy and drizzled with dreamy accents. The record has an organic J. Mascis-like finish in the acoustic Picture of a Bird. This all sounds pretty kosher so far, right? And it is. But there weren’t any hooks or novelty tracks on Tripper that would bring me to put this on repeat. I will say this, the video for You’re Too Weird is corny and hilarious. A great sense of humor will cure anything.

Once again I’ll label something as both good and bad and escape my judgmental guilt that keeps me up at night. Sub Pop is notorious for making it work and appealing to many without sacrificing creative expression. But there’s a reason why Fruit Bats have been signed with that label for ten years without making a definitive mark. They’re good but not excellent; they have brilliant songwriting over mediocre melodies and the old-newness becomes old again quickly. Five. Right smack dab in the middle of nothing and everything.