Fruit Bats “Sometimes A Cloud Is Just A Cloud: Slow Growers, Sleeper Hits And Lost Songs (2001–2021)”

Merge, 2022

A thoughtful 23 song collection comprising favourites and unreleased rarities

artwork for Fruit Bats album Sometimes A Cloud Is Just A Cloud: Slow Growers, Sleeper Hits and Lost Songs (2001–2021)Fruit Bats have been the vehicle to showcase the skills of Eric Donald Johnson for two decades, give or take the odd séjour performing as SDJ, writing film soundtracks or playing with The Shins and The Bonny Light Horseman. A compilation of two halves, the first disc brings together the best of Fruit Bats’ official releases, described by Johnson as “the collection that you buy for your friend that’s Fruit Bats curious”. The second disc comprises tracks mined from a cache of unreleased and demo versions of songs stored on various hard drives.

On disc one, the newest songs are presented first, with the previously unreleased ‘Rips Me Up’ opening the collection. This is followed by two songs from 2019’s ‘Gold Past Life’ including ‘Cazadera’ from which this anthology gets its title. ‘Humbug Mountain’ commences with a wonderful banjo pickathon, maybe this is what Supertramp would have sounded like if they’d ever played bluegrass. ‘The Ruminant Band’ LP is represented by the shuffling ‘Flamingo’ which assures us “everything’s gonna be just fine”. A live version of ‘Born In The 70’s’ is nostalgia blues for Generation X, reflecting on times past. The ‘best of’ songs stretch back to ‘Glass In Your Feet’, a descriptive reflection on nature, as Johnson muses about honey bees, flightless birds and bison.

Disc two includes a number of songs recorded on an old Tascam four track cassette recorder, including early versions of ‘Rainbow Sign’ and ‘The Old Black Hole’. There’s also an excellent acoustic version of the Steve Miller Band’s mainstay ‘The Joker’. ‘WACS’ features an appearance by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis who contributes some great guitar. The late Richard Swift plays piano on ‘When The Stars Are Out’, a fact that wasn’t uncovered until Johnson approved the masters.

According to Johnson, many of his unreleased songs, which languish in a digital purgatory, are “horribly unlistenable”. Given what’s been unearthed on disc two, it’s hard to believe that there aren’t more diamonds to be found amongst the digital rough. With tints of bluegrass, 70’s soft rock and folk, as well as influences ranging from Supertramp, (there’s a ‘Breakfast In Americana’ vibe on some songs), to the Bee Gees, via The Grateful Dead, this compilation gives an excellent overview of the multi-talented Johnson. It appears Johnson isn’t one for looking back, however, by glancing over his shoulder to contemplate his past creations, it demonstrates that following your instincts often produces your best work.

Editor’s note: Fruit Bats releasing a best of collection without ‘From a Soon to Be Ghost Town’ on it is like a Van Gogh best of collection which misses out Sunflowers. Like the opposite of that John Lennon quote, it’s not just the best Fruit Bats song ever, it’s one of the best songs of all time period. Outrageous. Minus 100 out of 10.

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