Though it does nothing that hasn’t already been done comparably well by The Shins, Rogue Wave, Beulah, Fountains of Wayne, dios, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and at least two dozen more progenitors of hook-heavy, cleverly-written indie-pop, Spelled In Bones, the third release from Seattle-based Fruit Bats, is nonetheless an album that makes for fantastic summertime listening and is almost endlessly likable. For a three-piece band (frontman Eric Johnson, backed by multi-instrumentalists Dan Strack and John Byce), Fruit Bats build wonderfully intricate arrangements—the piano and banjo harmonies on “Canyon Girl” are but one highlight of many—that impress further because they sound so laidback and organic, a nice complement to Johnson’s expressive vocals, which, complete with the elastic falsetto, sound unnervingly identical to alt-pop singer-songwriter Jude. Johnson’s lyrics boast some awfully nice lines and images (“When the fire in your belly and the piss and vinegar’s gone/God’s no better than you, just bigger is all,” from “Traveler’s Song,” to choose perhaps the best of the lot), but the album’s meditations on the awkward relationship between sensory and intellectual experiences never fully cohere into the more profound thematic statement hinted at by the songs in isolation. Spelled In Bones sounds like an optimistic album because of its lovely pop compositions, not necessarily because of what its songs have to say. Still, now that Garden State and its soundtrack have turned indie-pop into a mainstream trend, it’s refreshing to hear an album unencumbered by any real pretense. It might not be innovative or progressive, but Spelled In Bones is as straightforwardly good as any pop album this year, meaning that Fruit Bats fully hold their own in the company of their genre’s higher-profile artists.
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