Ever find yourself behind the wheel during a long road trip suddenly realizing that 45 minutes have gone by and you don’t remember any of it? That was what it was like listening to the Fruit Bat’s second LP — completely unmemorable. I would occasionally notice a great guitar intro or a truly heartfelt lyric, but ask me five minutes later to hum a melody and I wouldn’t be able to do it. The Chicago band, whose loose lineup has Eric Johnson and Gillian Lisee at its core, named their second album Mouthfuls, but the only thing the album was full of was "almost"s and "could have"s, tracks that had some parts of the puzzle but couldn’t fill in the whole picture.
The album, released on Sub Pop, isn’t full of horrible tunes with horrible lyrics played by horrible musicians; on the contrary, the members of Fruit Bats know their music, and approach it earnestly. But they just can’t get past a certain point, forcing the good parts to instead mingle and fall with the bad parts. In "A Bit of Wind," musically a near replica of Bob Dylan’s "Wigwam," the ending crescendos to a certain point but pulls out at the pivotal moment when such a build up of sound could have been poignant. The moment becomes, instead, just a fleeting pulse in the music, blatantly missing a chance to be emotionally moving.
"Little Acorn" is the standout track on the album, with the fantastic chorus in which the vocal modulation of the lyric, "northern snow," draws the listener in, and an ending full of charming electronic scales. But, just as most of the other tracks, "Little Acorn" is not without flaws; it is nearly doomed by the overtly cliché lines, "A little acorn becomes the mighty oak / The oak throws its seeds to the sky."
Eric Johnson’s vocals lend themselves to the music; his honest and passionate nature makes the lyrics’ innocence believable. Yet rarely his vocals are the focus, instead being covered by guitars, banjos, and what the band describes as "household objects." When his vocals do rise and take center stage, the results are impressive. In "Magic Hour," Johnson belts out, "Time was once / When there was rustling in the reeds / Tiny tumbleweeds / Pigeons on the post," creating one of the only memorable moments in the entire album. Yet even with this moment, the song’s chorus is overdone with backing vocals, thereby filtering away Johnson’s powerful vocals.
Other songs were so unmemorable that all I recall of, for example, "Rabbit Tracks," is how evocative it is of music in Lifetime movies, full of wailing violins and dramatic instrumental interludes. These tracks don’t have offensive lyrics or blatantly awful music, they just lack any spark or flair. Whereas tour mates and Midwestern buddies the Shins and Modest Mouse are able to pull their songs together, Fruit Bats leave some strands loose. Both Johnson and Lisee, approach their music sincerely without the baggage and attitude that can turn me off as a listener. But without pulling everything together, Fruit Bats do little to turn me on, catch my attention, or make the listen memorable.