Over the course of a decade, the Fruit Bats have quietly been dancing in and out of trends carried by fellow Sub Pop bands that have garnered much more attention. Folky, sunny, poppy and now slightly more psychedelic, the lineup-shifting band led by Eric D. Johnson has never jumped into the spotlight, but has asserted itself with quality albums.
Working with producer Thom Monahan on the heels of soundtrack-recording for Our Idiot Brother, Johnson has crafted Tripper into an album that's mellower and more experimental than its predecessor, the rollicking and catchy The Ruminant Band.
Though as melodic as ever, this Fruit Bats outing gives a significant amount of its sonic space to musical flourishes and a deeper, layered background, at times with abstractions and atmospherics that would fit in a film score.
Still, the largest change with Tripper is in Johnson's songwriting. He's now delving into the lives of colorful characters, often at crossroads with themselves, and telling stories of personal escapes with a great lyrical eye for detail.
Johnson first crossed into that territory with "Singing Joy to the World" from the last Fruit Bats album and now seems comfortable dealing almost exclusively with narratives, starting with those quiet internal moments that lead to big decisions and then following his characters down new paths.
Tripper is an album about journeys, about people who have left behind one thing but have not yet gotten anywhere new. Standouts like "Tony the Tripper," "Wild Honey" and "You're Too Weird" may sound easygoing, but hold within complex adventures.