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Fruit Bats 

Spelled in Bones (Sub Pop)

As the leader and only permanent member of Fruit Bats, Eric Johnson has spent several albums exploring the relationship between the natural and romantic worlds. The themes of death, rebirth and regeneration pop up in all of his records, and like fellow pop scientist Andrew Bird, Johnson uses his old biology and poetry textbooks in equal measure.

He continues this thread on Spelled in Bones, singing lines about the lungs of whales or pollination as a way of seeking natural order amid romantic chaos. More noteworthy is the subtle shift in sound on this new record: rollicking drums, fuzzed-out guitar and flittering synths keep the opener "Lives of Crime" bopping right along. Former keyboardist/vocalist Gillian Lisée's harmonies, which made 2003's Mouthfuls such a joy, are missed on a few of these tracks -- though Johnson gets to near-castrati levels of falsetto on "Born in the '70s."

Still, although Johnson has again made an album of literate, catchy pop, little distinguishes one pretty, folksy song from another; there are no out-and-out stunners like the Mouthfuls bookends "Rainbow Sign" and "When U Love Somebody." Operating at such a high level of consistency is hardly a liability, but much of Spelled in Bones feels like an incomplete coda to the band's earlier work.

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September 9, 2020

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