Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band
Heady and shimmering, but hardly sentimental
Fruit Bats is the alias of Eric Johnson, a songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist who also logs time playing keyboards in the Shins, guitar for Vetiver and occasionally collaborates with Califone. The Ruminant Band, Johnson's fourth LP as Fruit Bats, recalls the dreamiest singer-songwriter albums of the late '70s: It's a soothing, impeccably crafted collection of AM Gold, infused with the tiniest hint of psychedelia.
Johnson's high, yawning voice is preternaturally suited to these songs — which cite an array of oddball California songwriters, from Gram Parsons to Randy Newman to Van Dyke Parks — awfully well. The Ruminant Band is heady and shimmering, but it's hardly sentimental; Johnson was cawing complex screeds about beetles and grubs long before Joanna Newsom, and his lyrics are unapologetically earthy, from the psycho-meteorology of "Tegucigalpa" ("I always seem to bring the gray skies every time I fly/ From all the dirty cities along the way") to the fairy-tale visions of "The Ruminant Band" ("He wore a crown of beans and a belt of seeds/ Slept alone in the warm wet fields on a bed of mustard seed"). Johnson plays with breezy, cruising-the-Pacific-Coast-Highway production, but his vision of summertime isn't all fun-fun-fun. Over cheery pedal steel and piano, he reminds us: "The man who lives in the sun has got it out for everyone."