The musical evolution of Eric Johnson’s Fruit Bats continues on Tripper, the band’s fifth album: Johnson has pushed the Bats from the rustic acoustics of their debut to sparkling, spacey folk pop. Tripper picks up where 2009’s The Ruminant Band left off, opening with the bright, shuffling “Tony The Tripper,” which bridges the gap between those acoustic beginnings and the newfound psychedelic-pop aesthetic. And the lead single, “You’re Too Weird,” keeps a foot in the past, with tinkling piano and chugging acoustic guitars harkening back to some of the band’s earlier work even as the song’s lush sonic layers weave their way throughout.
Even so, the band branches out a bit. The breeziness of “So Long” is buoyed by lush harps and sunny, strumming guitars awash in reverb, and the propulsive “Heart Like An Orange” is driven along by winding synth flourishes and Johnson’s high-pitched, nasal vocals. But for all the sweet melodies and bright tapestry Johnson creates in the album’s first half, it loses momentum in the second half, slowed by the meandering, six-minute “The Banishment Song,” which never reaches the climax it feels like it’s building toward before segueing into the limp, hazy instrumental “The Fen.” Tripper finishes strong, though, picking up steam on the swooning album-closer “Picture Of A Bird,” proving Fruit Bats is strongest when it chooses not to abandon its roots completely, and straddles the line where past meets present.