by Craig Howieson
20 years on from their inception, Fruit Bats cherish the little moments that matter most on the sublime expanse of The Pet Parade
If you find yourself on a sinking ship and discover you have the ability to walk on water, it’s ok to feel relieved and revel in your change of fortunes. After all, it is a gift you can share with others to get them safely to shore. The same applies to life in general. It can be easy to become bogged down as the weight of the world bears down on you and those you hold dear. But it is vital to find the minor victories and relish the happy times when they present themselves, and not feel guilty for embracing life when you can. It makes you stronger, and a more positive influence in the world, and on the lives of those around you.
Marking twenty years since the release of his first full length as Fruit Bats, Eric D. Johnson’s latest record, The Pet Parade, narrows in on the multiplicity of the human experience. Sequestered in the hypnagogic warmth of Cub Pilot, as Johnson sings ‘We’ve been lately feeling like the people / we didn’t know we were allowed to be,’ there is a considered boldness to his words as he balances life’s scales by daring to dream and cutting himself some slack. Reverberating piano chords and lowing guitar lines caress the track into a moment of poignant genuineness, as Johnson removes bluster and the idea of unrealistic ambitions – a theme that percolates into the record as a whole.
Following his sublime album of traditional folk reimaginings as one-third of supergroup, Bonny Light Horseman, The Pet Parade leans heavily into similar folk influences and comes blessed with a similar rustic vintage. Friend and Bonny Light Horseman bandmate, Josh Kaufman, produces and contributes throughout the album, and their unique chemistry shines through; as, along with the enviable list of additional accompanists, they display a soulful respect for their craft. Each track is handled like fragile mail, but unleashed with a passionate vigour.
Discovering feels like viewing a life under a microscopic lens – measuring achievement on the most incremental scale, but celebrating it all the same. Accepting that there are ‘only a few minor epiphanies,’ Johnson looks at the tiny triumphs that pull you through. ‘But you should never be ashamed / and try your best not to be too afraid / Walking quiet on your way to be / making your own discoveries.’ The heavenly swoon of backing vocals and false ending make the final moments feel like a cleansing rain.
The Pet Parade is still flooded with Johnson’s candy-coated melodies, as he again displays his love of the 60s and 70s pop standards, and his time with The Shins and songwriting affinity with James Mercer shows its hand in the melodica and handclaps of The Balcony. As the record slows into the barren basement soul of Here For You, For Now, we are reminded of the whimsical daydreams Johnson can create. Exactly the type of moments that have kept fans of Fruit Bats coming back over the last two decades.
The Pet Parade is a thoroughly rewarding listen, and an important reminder to make the most of life while we can. Happiness is a noble pursuit through which we can lift those around us, and find fulfilment. As Johnson reminds us with his closing line, ‘you shall be complete / I decree it so.’
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