Album Review: Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) – EDJ

edjEric D. Johnson is no stranger to the world of indie rock, collaborating with bands like the Shins, Califone, Vetiver, and his personal songwriting vehicle, the Fruit Bats. Leaving behind that moniker, Johnson (known solo as EDJ) set out to “sit down and write an album’s worth of songs all over the course of a few weeks […]”  The result is the self-titled debut: EDJ. Spanning eleven tracks, the album plays like a movie with its interspersed musical collages of sound. Sometimes a synth dances over modulating guitars as a syncopated and perfectly aged rhythm decays in the background. Tracks like “The Magical Parking Lot” sit expansively in front of the listener, reaching ambient levels of reverberations. The following track, “Salt Licorice,” is a 31-sec interlude that begins with sustained piano stabs into a pool of reverb as twinkling melodic lines ripple past.

In a press release, Johnson says in relation to the direction of the album: “These are not the ‘happy’ songs that I’ve come to be associated with – no fully major chords, and lots of suspended chords and major sevenths to make things kind of emotionally ambiguous.” Obviously demonstrating musical aptitude, Johnson utilizes and dances along the gray line of emotional ambiguity to illustrate the transitional feeling of prospective uncertainty. Recorded in an unusually cold Portland winter, the weed-and-wine producing region of Mendocino County, and mystical Joshua Tree, the album collects inspiration from musical scores, ramshackle indie folk, and psychedelic garage rock a la contemporary groups like Tame Impala, Foxygen, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Overdriven drums and tambourines punctuate the echoed reverbs of Johnson’s nasally snarl. The second track “Lose It All, All The Time” is a great example of the driving pyschedelia that has become popular of late. Though not necessarily new in that regard, Johnson maintains a confident approach with help from Sam Cohen, Brian Cantor, and Josh Kaufman of Yellowbirds for basic tracking.  Andy Cabic (Vetiver), Tim Rutili (Califone), and James Mercer (the Shins), all contributed with added touches.

The first track is a lush opener, its funky backbeat jiving well strummed acoustic guitars and subtle synthesized strings providing body.  James Mercer is heard providing high harmonies to Johnson’s dynamic yelp.  The track bounces with a brightness with which the album catches glimpses along its journey.  Calling to mind early Dr. Dog whose harmony-heavy folk rock retains a Beatles-esque pop sensibility and jaunting pleasantness, the album moves forward as we go further down the Left Coast until we arrive in the Joshua Tree landscape of lost-and-found souls.  “For Joy” stretches its synth pads and breaks out a soulful vocal performance from Johnson.  The song flutters away as the penultimate track “Child in the Wild” gives us some cowboy harmonica under phaser’d electric guitar and a digitized horn section.  Johnson has said he had “no stylistic dogma in making this record,” and “was ready to fold in every type of music I was into at the moment – Joni Mitchell, new age, early 80′s McCartney, Another Green World, film scores, Talk Talk, British folk, and modern stuff that’s got me excited.”  The entire album is an amalgamation of sounds creating a vast display of texture, or “melancholy grooves and existential make-out songs.” Mellow out with this one and let the sun set on this vibing self-titled LP from Eric D. Johnson.

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