A bewitching collection of low-key pop, Fruit Bats' third album, Spelled In Bones, ends with nearly 40 seconds of atmospheric sounds, letting fluttering birds and rustling winds bring the album to a close. That's fitting, since from start to finish, Spelled In Bones strives to entertain without drawing too much attention to itself. That's not to say that Fruit Bats frontman Eric Johnson doesn't know how to write catchy songs; writing catchy songs seems to come naturally to him. But he also knows how to make them burrow into listeners' consciousnesses rather than bludgeoning their way in. Spelled In Bones has more than its share of hooks, but it's just as much about letting little lap steel and banjo passages create a mood. Johnson clearly wants listeners to sing along. He just wants to earn it first.
For instance, the album-opening "Lives Of Crime" starts quietly, then builds as sentiments like "You gotta have a heart like a lion" take over. Overall, however, the album is less defined by its passion than by its lightly psychedelic introspection. Over a bittersweet piano line, "Traveler's Song" repeats the line "God's no better than you, just bigger is all," until it sounds too sweet to be blasphemous. "Legs Of Bees" piles on a Robyn Hitchcock album's worth of nature imagery, imploring listeners, "Take your earplugs out [and] hear what the birds have to say." The band's inspiration seems to come as much from the outside world as from a record collection that doubtless includes plenty of old Byrds and Band albums, a smattering of Elephant 6 releases, and some CDs from the Bats' labelmate The Shins. It's hard to talk about Fruit Bats without at least mentioning The Shins, but that's mostly because they sound so philosophically aligned. Both bands discover a tuneful world of heartbreak and pleasant surprises in the 10 square feet around them.