Very rarely does a band perfectly name an album, but the Fruit Bats hit the nail on the head with their fourth full length, The Ruminant Band. Echoing the eccentric yet rootsy rock of Built to Spill, the Fruit Bats hold their own amidst heavy-weight labelmates, and have created a thinking man’s record for this day and age. The very opposite of a “Primitive Man,” the band falls into an interesting and comfortable listening groove from the start of The Ruminant Band, and doesn’t let up at all.
In the same way the Silver Jews manage to be quirky but please critics and fans alike, the Fruit Bats are rarely polarizing. A good mix of the mainstream alt-folk of Wilco and the brilliant shiny pop of the Shins, the Fruit Bats have been quietly chugging away at their trade for almost 10 years. After a debut on small Chicago-based label Perishable, the Fruit Bats were signed to Sub Pop in 2002, where they found the proper home and blossomed.
A refreshing update on the classic spin of Americana, the Fruit Bats excel at storytelling on The Ruminant Band. “Tegucigalpa” reads like a riveting biography, or even a passionate love letter. “Singing Joy to the World” sounds like a true story of a doomed western romance. The closing track, “Flamingo,” is simple and down tempo yet enthralling, a quiet tale of remembrance of life in the wake of death.
It is impressive that, despite the serious nature of some of the stories, the Fruit Bats manage to be jolly while retaining their literacy and not trailing off into clichéd hooks. The title track is a dance number and a beautiful poem at the same time. “The Hobo Girl” only has two verses but one can almost imagine an old-timey bar with a piano player at the helm. The down moments are touching and poignant (“Beautiful Morning Light”), but don’t stick out in the memory. The real thrill in the Fruit Bats, and the beauty of this record, is in the quality of the song writing, though it is easy to get lost in the fun of the music and not even notice.