Former frontman of the Fruit Bats, Eric D. Johnson's first stab at a solo album is equal parts engaging and frustrating.
Last fall Eric D. Johnson announced the end of his indie folk band the Fruit Bats, who over the course of 13 years had released five studio albums. In a blog post featured on the band’s site Johnson cited no great reason for the disbandment. Perhaps he simply wished to ditch the moniker, which he admits, “has always ostensibly been a 'solo' project”.
For whatever reason the Fruit Bats are no longer, much to the chagrin of many fans. But just as he foretold in his letter, fans need not wait long for more music from Eric D. Johnson. This time his music is being released under the name EDJ and his brand new self-titled album strays little from the sound that Fruit Bats fans have come to know.
Although the final Fruit Bats album was release some three years ago, Johnson has been far from on any sort of hiatus. Since 2011’s Tripper he has been responsible for seven different film scores, including 2011’s Our Idiot Brother . He has also for year s been a part of the Shins, appearing on several tracks on 2012’s Port of Morrow .
With all these varied side projects it comes as no surprise to see some of these influences bleed through into what amounts to his first true solo album. Despite this EDJ’s first third is as much of a Fruit Bat’s album as any of the previous five in Johnson’s catalogue. The opening track, and perhaps the album’s best, “For the Boy Who Moved Away”, features a combination of Johnson’s easy-like-Sunday-morning vocals over repeated acoustic strumming, piano and a short repeated finger picking progression. The final minute displays a familiar sounding electric guitar solo, which floats over the still repeating theme established from the tracks opening moments.
Another first-half standout comes a little later with, “Minor Miracles”, a song in which EDJ decides to ditch the guitar for a simple piano, drum combination, along with some well placed hand claps. The chorus -- “Everyone you’ve ever seen is some mama’s baby / Some papa’s son” -- keeps with the hippie-tinged folk themes that have largely shaped Johnson’s career as a songwriter.
The middle of the album is where the change from Fruit Bats to EDJ is first made evident. EDJ is split down the middle by two wordless tracks, which seem to draw heavily from his recent experiences scoring films. It's as if these two, “The Magical Parking Lot” and “Salt Licorice”, were tracks that didn’t quite make whatever movie they were intended for but still deserved to be released. Unfortunately, they don’t quite work within the context of the rest of the album. Even more unfortunate is that the second half of the album never regains the momentum, which the first half gained so effortlessly.