Fruit Bats Spelled In Bones

[Sub Pop; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie pop/folk, alt-country
Others: The Shins, Wilco, Holopaw

I'm going to be straight with you all: I've got a real soft spot for this sort of alt-country cum indie rock music. Wilco really tickles my fancy, but it's A Ghost Is Born's less rocky, more folky midsection in particular that makes my heart go pitter-patter. Plus, I've been a fan of the Shins through thick and Garden State-induced-thin. So I really kind of like this little record. Laid-back, relaxed acoustic guitars, clever little piano harmonies, and the occasional pedal steel help form a friendly (although occasionally melancholically-tinged) cocoon around Eric Johnson's pleasant vocals. The songs are all pretty charming -- it's hard to single out any of the tracks as being particularly weak. From the slow, melodic, country-tinged "Born in the '70s" to the (relatively) passionate and folky "The Earthquake of '73," each song has its own quirks while remaining enjoyable and unassuming.

In fact, "unassuming" is pretty much the perfect way to describe this record. Fruit Bats really haven't changed much from their Sub Pop debut, except that they've become even more subdued and poppy. Even the best tracks on Spelled In Bones still feel like they were cut from Summerteeth in the second round for being too easygoing -- every time the record starts and "Lives Of Crime" starts up, I wonder for a couple seconds after the vocals come in if Jeff Tweedy's getting the lyrics wrong on a glossed-over, more upbeat alternate take of "I'm Always in Love." And it's hard to shake the notion that the middle of "Canyon Girl" could have made something special out of itself like the Shins' vaguely similar "Turn A Square" so effortlessly did. The Fruit Bats don't really show a whole lot of spirit, and you have to wonder if they're just making pretty music for pretty music's sake.

But, of course, I'm splitting hairs here. I don't think we'll ever see anybody best the giants of modern alt-country pop at their own game, and Fruit Bats don't seem to suffer from any delusions of grandeur. They may be taking some spunk and edge out of the genre, but can you really criticize something for being too feel-good? Maybe music this pleasant and laid-back shouldn't be blamed just because it doesn't aspire to be groundbreaking. Because if you're willing to forgive a little lack of innovation and the subtle feeling that Spelled In Bones might be a little more mellow than it ought to be, there's one hell of a nice listen in this record.

1. Lives Of Crime
2. Silent Life
3. TV Waves
4. Canyon Girl
5. Born In The '70s
6. Legs Of Bees
7. Earthquake Of '73, The
8. Traveler's Song
9. Wind That Blew My Heart Away, The
10. Spelled In Bones
11. Everyday That We Wake Up It's A Beautiful Day

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