Plumbiferous Media

The Ruminant Band - Fruit Bats

Aug 5th 2009
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The Ruminant Band - Fruit BatsFruit Bats
The Ruminant Band
Score: 70

Fruit Bats, which start­ed as a side-project of I Row­boat, became its mem­bers’ main focus when I Row­boat broke up. The band is now releas­ing its fourth album (third under Sub Pop), The Rumi­nant Band. Fruit Bats has toured in the past with The Shins among oth­er groups, all of which have clear­ly influ­enced Fruit Bats to some degree, but Fruit Bats also car­ries a very dis­tinct coun­try-rock sound (empha­sis on coun­try). While Fruit Bats has the propen­si­ty to be quite clever, as shown on The Rumi­nant Band as well as by the name of their debut album Echolo­ca­tion, The Rumi­nant Band is not free from mis­takes and less suc­cess­ful tracks, which keep it from being a tru­ly great album.

The most clever sec­tion of The Rumi­nant Band is the first pair of tracks. “Prim­i­tive Band” starts the album with over­ly dras­tic vol­ume shifts from the gui­tar line and odd drum tones. It’s not a bad track, but it sounds (and is clear­ly meant to sound) crude. “The Rumi­nant Band” then blows its pre­de­ces­sor out of the water. Eas­i­ly the best track on the album, the drums retain none of their pre­vi­ous­ly vacant sound, and the gui­tar lines not only pro­vide a har­mon­ic back­ing for the vocals, but the beau­ti­ful solos, fills, and del­i­cate side-melodies become a nec­es­sary point of inter­est for the track.

The rest of the album, on the oth­er hand, must be giv­en more mixed a review. Many tracks, includ­ing “Tegu­ci­gal­pa” with its unex­pect­ed chord pro­gres­sions and well placed organ line, “The Blessed Breeze” and “Feath­er Bed” (though both bor­der­ing on being too long), and “Beau­ti­ful Morn­ing Light,” regard­less of its sud­den end­ing, all retain much of the great­ness that opened the album. How­ev­er, “The Hobo Girl” uses numer­ous effects which only serve to mar the track, and “Singing Joy to the World” is sim­ply for­get­table. This pat­tern of more suc­cess­ful tracks bor­der­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly less suc­cess­ful tracks cov­ers most of the sec­ond half of the album.

Through the course of The Rumi­nant Band, Eric John­son’s voice changes to suit the musi­cal theme aimed for by the Fruit Bats. Begin­ning with the hol­low echo­ing of “Prim­i­tive Band,” matched expert­ly with the tone indi­cat­ed by the name and the music itself, John­son’s voice shifts such that it is con­stant­ly suit­ed to the music - pur­er on folk-heavy tracks like “Beau­ti­ful Morn­ing Light” and more ener­getic on coun­try-heavy tracks like “Tegu­ci­gal­pa.” Through­out the album, what­ev­er styles John­son’s vocals rest upon are pos­sessed with an impres­sive vivid­ness, con­tribut­ing great­ly to the vibrance of The Rumi­nant Band.

John­son writes lyrics with an inspired com­bi­na­tion of the rem­i­nis­cence of coun­try and folk and impres­sive cre­ativ­i­ty. Each track is filled with odd­ly enthralling, though per­plex­ing sto­ries and images, from John­son’s descrip­tion of the sky as “a mon­ster made out of tears” to his depic­tion of “buck­ets of love.” So it is, then, that begin­ning with John­son’s mem­o­ry of “the time that you broke down and told me that one dream / Your eyes a bit misty and so sin­cere,” and end­ing with his assur­ance that “Every­thing gonna just fine” (in an admit­ted­ly per­turb­ing falset­to), The Rumi­nant Band nev­er fails to be emo­tion­al­ly engaging.

The Rumi­nant Band is cer­tain­ly an inter­est­ing album. The obvi­ous cre­ativ­i­ty of Fruit Bats served it well through this care­ful com­bi­na­tion of coun­try, folk, and occa­sion­al­ly even rock pat­terns. Some mishaps, includ­ing “The Hobo Girl,” which sim­ply does­n’t work as well as much of the rest of the album, and “Being On Our Own,” which los­es some of the draw of The Rumi­nant Band in favor of con­stan­cy, can’t quite derail the album, but they do pre­vent it from being excel­lent. Though the first half of the album is near­ly uni­form­ly well con­struct­ed, as the album pro­gress­es it begins to pick up more issues and to lose some of the ele­gance which dis­tin­guished its first few tracks, though “My Unusu­al Friend” is a notable excep­tion. The Rumi­nant Band isn’t per­fect by any means, but it’s still a strong and quite imag­i­na­tive album.

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