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20 Watts Reviews Fruit Bats’ The Ruminant Band by caitlindewey
Fruit Bats' The Ruminant Band

The Ruminant Band breaks sounds blatantly familiar, but sweetly so

PREVIEW: Download Fruit Bats’ “Primitive Man” MP3
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 20 Watts interviews Fruit Bats’ Eric Johnson
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts

“Revivalism” has become a dirty word in certain music circles.  God only knows what the term originally connoted, but now it’s become a euphemism for already-covered ground midway between redundant and patently uninspired.  Why even bother listening to a so-called revival record?  At the end of the day, you can generally smirk over a few vintage name-drops and claim that you’ve heard it before.

Enter into this fray Chicago’s Fruit Bats, an NPR-ready, folk-pop five-piece who tout their vintage influences like they just came into style.  They’ve got Fleetwood Mac name-checked in their press kit.  They have Neil Young and Paul McCartney down in their comfortably faded takes on homespun folk and ‘60s pop.  And on their third album, The Ruminant Band, they blend the best from all three artists with a breezy West Coast sensibility reminiscent of Sub Pop labelmates The Shins.

At times, the results are so blindingly successful that you’ll forget this ground’s been covered before.  In fact, the vast majority of Fruit Bats’ third album consists of bright folk-pop ballads and faintly nostalgic, forcefully strummed choruses, all dressed in plaid and ready to party.  Album opener “Primitive Man” jangles through nearly a minute of gloriously sunny strumming before frontman Eric Johnson rejoins; mid-album stand-out “Singing Joy to the World” is homespun folk storytelling at its sparsest and most intriguing.  The revivalism here is revivalism in the sweetest sense — like an old friend half-forgotten, or a distant summer memory dimmed by time.

It’s too bad, really — had Fruit Bats been born a few decades earlier, they might have been called visionaries.  At this stage in the game, however, they’re just seriously charming dudes with an ear for a rustic acoustic chorus and an unrelenting denial of what year they’re in.

Not that I’m complaining, of course.  You may have heard The Ruminant Band before, but I doubt you’ve heard it quite like this.

— Caitlin Dewey


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