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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