“Lives of Crime”
from the album Spelled in Bones
2005
iTunes

Download a free MP3 of “Lives of Crime”
(and/or stream the full album) at Sub Pop Records

With a roll call of hangouts like Lookout Point and Makeout Creek and mentions of “singing along to ‘Raspberry Beret,’ ” 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. As on Mouthfuls, 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; meanwhile, “The Wind That Blew My Heart Away” 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.

Spelled in Bones is so consistent that at times it threatens to become too samey, but each song’s similarly winding melodies and unhurried tempos end up giving the album a suite-like feel. Every now and then, surprising lyrics like “God’s no better than you, just bigger, that’s all” (from “Traveler’s Song”) emerge from the gentle haze of the proceedings, and both “Earthquake of ’73″ and “Spelled in Bones” itself add enough bitter to the sweet to keep the album from sounding complacent. However, “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.

It may be a remarkably summery album, but it has enough charm and depth for year-round listening.

~ Heather Phares, All Music Guide

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