Fruit Bats - Spelled in Bones (Cover Artwork)

Fruit Bats

Spelled in Bones (2005)

Sub Pop

Okay, so maybe Eric Johnson went to the drawing board with the intentions of writing a darker, more pessimistic record, but during the process everything turned around and instead we're left with Spelled in Bones, Johnson's self-described "Romantic opus." Not that Hollywood romance; you know, the real deal: 18th century literature with a strong focus on natural relationships, Coolidge, Wordsworth and so on. So maybe you didn't like that quarter in high school English class, but Fruit Bats make the whole somewhat more tangible through their distinct pop-influenced folk rock. If anything, the album feels oddly familiar upon earlier listens. Their sound is an effective mixture of the folk-inspired acoustic mainstays with plenty of pop elements heaped on top to bring a sense of immediacy to the music. It's Heron King Blues without the blues, and although the sound may not be new or ambitious, it can work well for the newly happy Johnson, shedding light upon his quirky joy through the vocals and uptempo songs without forgetting to leave room for a moody moment here and there.

The opener, "Lives of Crime," gives good insight as to what the rest of the record is about, with the laid back tempo and catchy vocals. It relies heavily on that pop accessibility, but also uses it to create an inviting warmth to the sound which fits the theme. "Silent Life" follows similarly and the two create an effective opening to the record: Uplifting and grabbing, the momentum they create is not carried through the rest of the songs. Much of the middle simply floats along to little fanfare. "TV Waves" is more methodical, but lacks an effective punch to deliver on the added emotional weight. "Canyon Girl" is forgettable, lost in the rest of the record with little to distinguish it or make it memorable. "The Wind That Blew My Heart Away" lifts things back again, with some great vocal work that drives most of the song up into the endearing chorus. The title track is the best depressed song of the bunch, able to stand its own and keep some lasting power.

Spelled in Bones may not be the depressed album it was originally intended to be, but it doesn't give enough to be a strictly uplifting and catchy album either. It falls between the two extremes, but fails to navigate the water effectively all the time. The songs which are more heavily pop influenced do well, but some of the slow songs fail to achieve their goal, and the middle is inconsistent. It does have high points, however, and nothing totally flops. Everything maintains that folk feel, but some songs project the Romantic intentions better than others. It's still a fairly solid collection of songs, especially for those who enjoy the style, but the inconsistencies ultimately take away from the power of the album, leaving it a collection of hit or misses and not a unified effort.