By Andrew Howie
I first discovered Fruit Bats back in college. One of my friends and I who always shared music got hold of 2009’s The Ruminant Band, and we were hooked instantly. I began delving into the back catalog and found myself more mesmerized with each new album. The lineup has gone through many changes, but is built around singer-songwriter Eric D. Johnson, whose mixture of high-pitched indie vocals with bright, sunny 70s psychedelia and folk themes makes Fruit Bats a supremely pleasant listening experience: emotional but not overbearing, whimsical yet morose, upbeat yet melancholy. While Absolute Loser as a whole is pretty great, each track does bring its own little something to the table, cobbling together pieces of previous Fruit Bats albums to put together a new take on tried-and-true styles.
Less mystical than 2011’s Tripper, yet not as woodsy as Echolocation, Absolute Loser is right in the middle of the Fruit Bats catalog. Album opener “From a Soon-To-Be Ghost Town” is quintessential Fruit Bats: buoyant guitars and keys with achingly gorgeous vocal harmonies detailing the malaise of life moving on without you. The banjo-stomp of “Humbug Mountain”, the soft warning and wonderfully sad vocals in “None of Us”, and the soaring, sunset-esque title track continue the elated yet somber ambience that Fruit Bats is known for, before introducing spacy synthesizer noodles. The wistful, acoustic “Baby Bluebird” showcases Johnson’s vocal range and emotive lyrics in one of the standout tracks on the album.
Johnson’s love for his hometown of Chicago, another recurrent theme in Fruit Bats material, comes up again in “My Sweet Midwest”, reminiscent of The Ruminant Band. The jangliness soon gives way to the rambling acoustic “Birthday Drunk”, with sweeping strings anchoring Johnson’s voice as it runs up and down over the guitar. The final trio, “Good Will Come to You”, “It Must Be Easy”, and “Don’t You Know That” take us back into Tripper territory, with hazy piano and synth washes underneath yelping laments.
Whether you listen to it all at once or go song by song when you have the time, Absolute Loser is a wonderful album. It’s a stripped-down album for sure in terms of production and melody; it’s not too busy, it’s a bit more patient, and before you know it it’s over and you have to start it again. The trademark Fruit Bats catchiness is still there, replete with all the watery, psychedelic, sunshine-filled pensive beauty you could hope for. It’s just one more reason why Fruit Bats can come back strong after five years and still be a leading voice in the indie scene.
Rating: 8 out 10