Sub Pop, 2009

How much actual auto-biographical content appears in Eric Johnson’s songs is yet to be seen, but all narratives and fabrications aside, the ruminant band is an excellent nomenclature for this veteran Seattle ensemble. Their music has always been affable but straightforward, conjuring poppy ’70s folk-stylings, the equivalent of comfort food for your woofers and tweeters. And there’s nothing sensationally different about The Ruminant Band‘s sound from the Fruit Bats‘ previous three albums, but as the title insinuates, their music ruminates with the listener and this specific brand of comfort food has an awfully long shelf life.

Take, for example, the title track; it opens strong with guitars and tambourines blazin’ before pinching “The Traveler’s Song”‘s chords, settling in on a melody and taking off. It jams like early Wilco and has a flow like later Built to Spill, a full-out alt-country version of the what the Fruit Bats do best, taking a simple song and making it memorable.

The album continues encompassing the band’s strengths, from the sweet and succinct (“Beautiful Morning Light”) to joyful nostalgia (“The Blessed Breeze”). The songs here are, for the most part, absent of the cynicism of their earlier work, and the sardonic tones lured out through musician growing pains and the trivial hardships of life have been replaced with a more confident, even sappy accentuation. “I’ll be the lump of sugar in your tea,” Johnson purrs on “Feather Bed”, as the hammer lifts and falls on the strings of his sanguine piano. Ask a different band to do this and it might become stupid and inartistic.  But for Fruit Bats, the drippy love songs and cheery sing-along choruses hit a stride and seem perfectly in balance between the nauseating and the trite.

In fact, you’d expect a record with this sort of sunny pop to lose novelty with play, but there’s really a lot here to explore. Like the other Fruit Bats albums before it, it catches the listener’s attention immediately and has layers of melody and sonic charm to spare.

Most impressively, Johnson had a much smaller part in the completion process. He wrote and arranged the songs, played piano and sang, and otherwise let his band take care of the rest. His recent teaming up with The Shins left many wondering the fate of his other band, but he promised to keep up with them and it showed, not only in his songwriting but in the maturation of the combo around him. Put it down as one of the summer’s prettiest.