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Fruit Bats | Echolocation (Perishable)
With the death of alt.country having been widely reported in many publications and throughout the media, it was something of a shock to come across this album - like a 5'' silver Lazarus it almost single-handedly resurrects the promise of that much maligned genre. Including Ex-Red, Red Meat-ster Brian Deck and Charles Kim from the now defunct Pinetop Seven, the (ignominiously titled) Fruit Bats are a five piece (playing mainly acoustic instruments) who've produced one of the unexpected delights of the year. There's a freshness, immediacy and vitality to this record sorely lacking in the majority of recent releases, reminiscent of the purity of Flophouse Jr's 'Woodland'. The songs take their time, bubbling like a delicious soup, quietly progressing, like driving 40 down a hot, desert road through spine-snapping scenery. Lyrically there's a welcome fascination with the Old West and with all things bucolic. Tropes of water and ice re-occur throughout the album, giving it a glacial, nostalgic feel, tinged with melancholy and quiet desperation. Buffalo And Deer (despite the uncharacteristic presence of electric guitar and synth) could be the Loving Spoonful recording the soundtrack for a David Lynch movie while Black Bells is a slow, crying-in-my-tequila ballad with a great opening line ("Stars are shining in the Western sky / Like a million alligator eyes / Black bells are ringing / Frogs are singing Sister Ray.") The creatures of the wild appear in several songs making this the album with the highest animal count I can think of apart from the new Handsome Family record. Coal Age is the kind of thing Pinetop Seven were once so good at - creepy, probing, spiky banjo instrumentals that linger long after they've finished. The ensemble playing throughout is wonderful, producing a warm, richly textured sound that's both thrillingly organic and pleasingly complex. Dragon Ships is as good as Pavement got, falsetto chorus and all, before it morphs into a multi-tracked vocal coda that sounds like the Beach Boys on bad acid. The song also contains what has to be contender for the best couplet of the year: "I wish I was a Viking in 1103 / I'd fuck up shit on the high, cold sea / You know that the Vikings were always ripped / They kept a lot of drugs on their dragon ships." What more could you ask for?
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002