In the current trend of music, which features heavy use of electronics and a dense, claustrophobic sound, Eric D. Johnson and company stubbornly refuse to follow. Like their previous releases, Fruit Bats stray very little from their original, classic sound that relies more heavily on the guitar rather than the MacBook. Maybe this is indeed a simple approach, yet it comes off as refreshingly alternative for those who have grown weary of the chillwave and dubstep movements taking over the music scene.
When Johnson became the guitarist for The Shins in 2009, there was a growing skepticism as to whether he would even continue his Fruit Bats project. He definitively answers these doubts with a solid release in Tripper, which makes the case for both the legitimacy and continuation of the band. Their leader displays keen songwriting ability and an exceptional nuance with the guitar. The blending of the acoustic and electric guitars is beautifully seamless throughout the album, especially on album highlights “You’re Too Weird” and “Heart Like an Orange.” “Weird” even features an electrifying solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic rock ballad. Johnson takes chances musically here and there, yet the experimentation feels inherent and natural, even on a track that is driven almost solely by a keyboard (“Dolly”). This slight experimentation allows for each of the eleven compositions to obtain an immediate, distinctive quality that separates itself from the rest of the album.
“The Banishment Song” in particular distinguishes itself as the unrivaled opus of Tripper. Aside from being the lengthiest cut, it combines all of the musical elements that are present and implemented on the rest of the album. The song begins with a simple acoustic guitar, which gives off a minimalist, singer-songwriter vibe. Yet this soon dissipates with the first emphatic notes of a piano, which are then followed by a bluesy electric guitar and an eventual grandiose, symphonic climax. Here, Johnson does not tell a tale of redemption through finding love, but from rather overcoming a scorned love. The protagonist is strengthened by his own accord.
The tracks that follow “Banishment Song” provide a proper comedown, with “Picture of a Bird” affirming a triumph through resolve and independence. The first half of the album, while placing emphasis on personal journey through love (“Tangie and Ray,” “Heart Like an Orange”), gives way to a slightly different tone by the album’s epic. From “The Banishment Song” to the end of Tripper, Johnson’s lyricism undergoes a shift and conveys more of an independent spirit, stressing a personal journey through inner resolve rather than mere love. This journey is fully realized in the hymn-like, metaphorical “Picture of a Bird.”
With this latest release, Eric D. Johnson and his Fruit Bats prove themselves far more than a one-dimensional band or some off-handed side project. Johnson’s involvement in The Shins has not diminished the quality of his Fruit Bats work, but has rather enhanced and further improved it. His imagery of nature throughout the record not only suits the music, but succeeds in enriching his portrayal of human emotion. Together, the imagery and music provide a nostalgic, innocent atmosphere, and an album worthy of a listen.