Former Califone utility man fuses Shins wordplay with Sir Paul’s songcraft
Eric Johnson and his revolving cast of Chi-town cohorts set out to follow their spacious, indie-folk-rock gem, Mouthfuls, by making a “dark bummer record with shades of optimism.” But as Johnson worked on the slightly more-polished Spelled In Bones, his life started getting better, he admits. So things turned out inverted—a hopeful record with gusts of melancholy.
Given the autumnal acoustic strums that begin opener “Lives of Crime,” it feels like Bones—both musically and mood-wise—picks up where Mouthfuls left off. And while it certainly builds on that foundation, this time the Fruit Bats dust off the ’60s-pop handbook, coasting McCartney-style melodies and spine-tingling two-part harmonies over pretty-as-a-pillbox-hat chord changes.
While Bones isn’t as instantly accessible as its predecessor, it certainly provides more to mull over. Like labelmate James Mercer of The Shins, Johnson’s penchant for clever, offbeat word choice breathes life into even the most tired themes.