What a mouthful is: too much stuff crammed in, can’t get enough, taking in the world by taste. An experience so overwhelming it’s worth sacrificing breath, speech, and etiquette. A mouthful isn’t always polite, but it’s almost always divine.
The Fruit Bats’ Mouthfuls lives up to, and beyond, this overpowering state. The sophomore effort from the Chicago duo is as lucid as a photograph, as compelling as a daydream, as convincing a promise made in blood. The Fruit Bats effect this through the cosmic jangle of tangly, tingly, country flavored indie pop. Drop Brendan Benson, the Shins, or Elliot Smith in a field with a kaleidoscope for a week and see what they sing: the Fruit Bats have channeled this spirit, and channeled it well.
So much of the album impresses, it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll begin with my favorite, “The Little Acorn”. It opens with a temperate guitar melody, which is soon broken by the vocals of Eric Johnson, harmonizing first against his own easygoing voice, then along with the delicate soprano of Gillian Lisee, the other Fruit Bat. The song flows along the quiet and the quieter, showcasing the dynamism of softness, both in form and in content. Halfway through, acoustic and electric guitar, cymbal brushes, and understated snare mesh in a cottony instrumental bridge, before Johnson sings with a rootsy earnestness: “Float your paper boat up the creek/ and watch the waves.” The sincerity of his voice, matched with the sweetness of the observation, could melt ice.
Indeed, lyricist Johnson’s faculties for observation are what turn sonic pleasantries into vehicles of magic and myth. “Seaweed”, a charming number adorned with acoustic finger picking, unleashes one immediately, as Johnson sings: “If I broke my jaw for you/ I’d find a bloody tooth and rip it out/ throw it in the water/ where it’d float until the river let it out.” In this environment, an otherwise gruesome image becomes the ultimate lovelorn sacrifice—it’s of the logic that made van Gogh sever his ear as a tribute to his beloved. But because Johnson delivers these lines not sullenly, but matter of factly, they’re all the more powerful. Underneath, the music remains easily, simply pretty. The combination is breathtaking.
What else? There’s “Union Blanket”, a pleasantly surprising combination of hyper acute digital noises and the most natural of acoustic folk, simultaneously sounding frantically itchy and at peace. There’s the simple, sad, piano backed poetry of “Lazy Eye”, where “love burns a circle in the snow” and the guitar line drips like a tearing eye. There are lyrical wonders hidden between aural swells and valleys: “broken fists” (“Slipping through the Sensors”), “a piece of grass floating on a breeze,” (“A Bit of Wind”), or “tiny tumbleweeds” (“Magic Hour”).
Mouthfuls is not an album for the callous or the hurried. It is an album for waiters, thinkers, and lovers; an album for those who want to feel—even pain, even bewilderment, even loss. The Fruit Bats revel in the small things so thoroughly it will fill you up, utterly—and you will want to take it all in, breathlessly, with the eager passion of a mouth wide open.
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// Notes from the Road
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