Fruit Bats: The Ruminant Band

Fruit Bats: The Ruminant Band

B+

Fruit Bats

Album: The Ruminant Band
Label: Sub Pop

Considering that frontman Eric Johnson joined The Shins in 2007, and judging by the Chutes Too Narrow-esque cover art of the new The Ruminant Band, it might be sensible to worry that Fruit Bats have become a full-on Shins derivative. But the record—the group’s first since 2005’s Spelled In Bones—thankfully takes huge leaps away from any conceivable comparison. The band has always created pleasantly simple tunes that bask in the quietly sunny realm of misty mountain valleys and winding country roads, while avoiding sounding like actual country music. However, in separating himself from the folk-pop pack, Johnson is comfortable passing on pop in favor of ’70s-styled Southern rock, crafting bright, good-time country ditties that fit nicely beside Allman Brothers classics. Johnson’s vocals have changed since the warmly unforced harmonies of 2003’s Mouthfuls—when his voice and that of former member Gillian Lisee practically glowed together—and they now match the rural lo-fi feel with a higher, more nasal, tinny pitch. But all that matters is that the songwriting is as good as ever: “Tegucigalpa” and “Being On Our Own” feature cheerful, expansive melodies that roll along under an open sky, while “The Hobo Girl” makes a fun, stomping campfire sing-along. Stripped of reference points, The Ruminant Band is an uncomplicated, easygoing success that suggests Johnson shouldn’t get too busy to give Fruit Bats due attention.