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Hey, don’t just sit there! Join in

The Fruit Bats have an accessibility that will make you want to pick up and instrument and play along. By Paige Newman
/ Source: msnbc.com

The Fruit Bats’ “Spelled in Bones” was supposed to be the sad album. But somewhere on his road to misery, frontman Eric Johnson accidentally stumbled upon some happiness. The result is a CD that is upbeat without being frothy, which sounds almost like a Beatles side project — it’s fairly easy to imagine John Lennon or George Harrison happily strumming and singing some of these songs.  Johnson’s voice even has a nice Lennon-like tone (he can hit those falsettos, too).

Though the result is straight-up, sharp pop, there’s a nice twangy undertone here that reveals the Fruit Bats’ alt-country roots. In a recent interview, Johnson told Seattle indie radio station KEXP, that he once imagined the band as a 20-piece “sit down” band. “Really hippy dippy,” he said. Listening to the band, you really get a sense of that spirit because the songs almost invite you to sing along with them. There’s an accessibility that instantly makes you feel like part of the Fruit Bats collective — even if you’re just being introduced to them.

The band has changed lineups, but Johnson has remained a constant. The current lineup features his former I, Rowboat collaborator Dan Strack, who also produced the new album in his Seattle basement, John Byce and their brand-spanking new (this guy still has the cellophane on him) drummer, Adam Howry. “It just turned into this rotating cast,” Johnson told Prefix Magazine, “and I write all the songs, so I’m always going to be the one left if everybody leaves.”

Lyrically, most of Johnson songs have a wonderful subtlety to them. There’s little of the “she tore my heart out” type lyrics that some of the more angsty pop bands indulge in. Instead, you get songs like, “Lives of Crime,” in which Johnson sings, “Hey don’t you sigh, don’t sigh, don’t breathe, no / Your breath is just the air on which you drift away from me.” There’s a quietness that’s implied in the way this couple is just moving slowly apart that just feels so real.

In the song “Canyon Girl,” Johnson writes about finding happiness that is so wonderful it feels like fiction. “And I won’t be returning to the run of the mill again,” he sings. I love that sense of leaving behind the status quo in the pursuit of happiness. This song also has a lovely piano lead-in.

The Fruit Bats get compared to the Shins — a lot — which Johnson says he understands, but doesn’t love. “[Shins frontman James Mercer] and I both listen to the same kind of music and are influenced by the same sort of things,” he told Prefix. And it’s true that both bands are very poppy, but the Fruit Bats have a much more casual sound than the Shins do – they feel less orchestrated. It seems crazy and somewhat pointless to create a hierarchy between these friends and labelmates. However, that said, if you enjoy one of these bands, you’ll probably dig the other.

The Fruit Bats are currently touring with Rogue Wave (who are awesome, by the way) and Chad VanGaalen, and if you don’t have the flu the way I did when they came through Seattle (which sucked), you should definitely check them out. Even if they don’t come through your town, check out their live set on KEXP. You’ll want to pick up an instrument and join in.        

For more information on the Fruit Bats visit: http://www.subpop.com/scripts/main/bands_page.php?id=411