Spelled in Bones

Studio Album by released in 2005
Spelled in Bones's tracklist:
Lives of Crime
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Silent Life
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TV Waves
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Canyon Girl
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Born in the 70's
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Legs of Bees
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The Earthquake of '73
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Traveler's Song
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The Wind That Blew My Heart Away
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Spelled in Bones
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Everyday That We Wake Up It's a Beautiful Day
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Spelled in Bones review

Chicago's experimental folk-pop band the Fruit Bats feature an ever-changing lineup based around singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Eric Johnson (not to be confused with the Eric Johnson from Archers of Loaf or the guitar virtuoso of the same name) and keyboardist/bassist/mandolin player Gillian Lisee. As on their previous album Mouthfuls, with Spelled in Bones the Fruit Bats continue to move away from the country sounds of their debut, although lap steel and other shades of their beginnings resurface from time to time. Instead, the band looks to '70s pop for inspiration, as on the aptly named Born in the '70s, which mixes Elton John falsettos, flute-like synths, and the aforementioned lap steel into something both familiar and quietly inventive; The Wind That Blew My Heart Away, meanwhile, has a jaunty yet bittersweet melody that recalls the best of Paul McCartney's work from that decade. Despite the poppiness of songs like these and Canyon Girl, the Fruit Bats still have a healthy experimental streak; the opening track, Lives of Crime, seems to melt every time it should come to a chorus. Every Day That We Wake Up It's a Beautiful Day closes Spelled in Bones with hope and optimism that are as genuine as they are subtle.

Laid-back, relaxed acoustic guitars, clever little piano harmonies, and the occasional lap steel help form a friendly (although occasionally melancholically-tinged) cocoon around Eric Johnson's pleasant vocals. The songs are all pretty charming. From the slow, melodic, country-tinged Born in the '70s to the (relatively) passionate and folky The Earthquake of '73, each song has its own quirks while remaining enjoyable and unassuming. Spelled in Bones feels steeped in the sunny days of June, July, and August, when it's easy to be easygoing and too nice out to get too upset about things like mortality and heartache (even though you're still thinking about them). This, the Fruit Bats' third album, is still rooted in the folky indie pop of their earlier work, but Spelled in Bones is more polished, more focused, and feels more like the output of a full-fledged band, probably because they became a quartet instead of a duo with a cast of supporting characters. It may be a remarkably summery album, but it has enough charm and depth for year-round listening.

Johnson began playing and writing songs on his four-track in the mid-'90s before he formed I Rowboat, a Velvet Underground-inspired indie rock band. He began dabbling in folk with I Rowboat guitarist Dan Strack and drummer Brian Belval as the Fruit Bats. When I Rowboat disbanded, Johnson played guitar and banjo with Califone. That group's Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella, who also own Perishable Records, urged the Fruit Bats to record their work for the label, which resulted in the trio's 2001 debut, Echolocation. Over the next two years the group toured and refined its lineup and sound, adding Gillian Lisee as well as more pop and experimental elements to its folk-rock base. In 2002 the group signed to Sub Pop, who released their sophomore effort, Mouthfuls, in spring 2003. Two years later, after relocating to Seattle and expanding to a four-piece, the band released their third album, Spelled in Bones.