The tenth full length LP from Eric D. Johnson a.k.a Fruit Bats sees the muso yearning for a sense of place and belonging.
A River Running To Your Heart provides warmth, reflection and oodles of earnestness across its 11 tracks. Johnson has been gradually perfecting his palette since the late 90s; progressing from lo-fi tinkering to his full scale productions of more recent records (including with his other band Bonny Light Horseman).
Opener and lead single Rushin’ River Valley sets the tone as an ode to his wife who plays an almost totemic role on the album. The rushing beat of the drums mirrors the excitement of getting to her and being a team together.
Much of ARRTYH goes big on lush, layered synths and cyclical melodies demonstrated most aptly on It All Comes Back, which preaches on how to live post-pandemic. But just as the synths add the technicolour, Johnson does the simpler things just as well. The vintage AM vocals and organs of Tacoma bring the down-home feels in a dreamy ballad yearning for days gone by, while We Used To Live Here is a Roger Waters inspired nostalgia trip to a time of youthful promise and simpler times: “All that we had then was you and me / Living on love and making believe.”
This is a pleasant self-produced record with on point compositions, drawing influences from The Beatles (Sun God vibes on Meridian), Bee Gees (falsetto and groove of Sick Of This Feeling) as well as the aforementioned Pink Floyd. Johnson has a knack for marrying the electronic synth to his instrumentation to create an organic backdrop to his heart-on-sleeve lyrics, which tallies with the recurring motifs of longing for home, a gratitude for those he loves and the experiences of being a worn-in touring and gigging musician.
The album does however, kind of sail by. The production, while polished, feels like a less intense version of The War On Drugs. The style and structural composition of each track aims for the same widescreen scale but there’s no edge or drama. It’s akin to watching a movie where you already know there’s no big fall out or antagonist to overcome. It’s just pleasant for the sake of being pleasant. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t make for being very memorable either.