Fruit Bats “Gold Past Life” (Merge Records, 2019)

Essentially a vehicle for Eric D. Johnson, a sometime member of The Shins, Fruit Bats deliver their first album for Merge Records with a fizzy, at times sugary, flourish. The 11 songs here are bathed in a nostalgic wash with Johnson inhabiting the summery breezes of those classic songwriters who delivered their wares in highly structured units. Thus, there are whiffs of Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson and even the brothers Gibb secreted within the globs of synthesised pop laid down here although they are leavened with some cosmic country pedal steel stylings.

Most of this concoction is quite beguiling. ‘A Lingering Love‘ rushes along with some soulful touches sounding somewhat like Birds Of Chicago while the falsetto vocals and stabbing keyboards of the title song remind one of Rundgren’s appropriation of Philly soul sounds. ‘Cazadera’ wanders into latter day Wilco territory and ‘Your Dead Grandfather’ is simply sublime as its gliding pedal steel and layered guitars are topped with cheeky synthesised keyboards.

Dig under the attractive melodies and polished sounds here and there is a sense of melancholy and loss in many of the words. It’s not an album which invites close inspection of the lyrics but at times Johnson allows the words to breathe as on the Brian Wilson like ‘Barely Living Room’ which is quite superb. ‘Ocean’ strips away the arrangements for a folky delivery from Johnson as he recalls his first trips to the seaside and seeing a mountain for the first time. Here he waxes as poetically as any Greenwich Village poet.

Perfectly pedicured pop stylings
8/10

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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