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Tripper ()

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The Ruminant Band sounded like a classic rock album, with its dueling Allman Brothers guitar solos and full-band harmonies. Tripper, the Fruit Bats' 2011 follow-up, is more pared down, with bandleader Eric Johnson doing most of the legwork himself. Synthesizers and keyboard loops replace the knotted guitars. Atmospheric washes of sound replace the sunny, straightforward hooks. On songs like "The Fen," instruments replace vocals entirely, sounding more like a clip from an orchestral movie soundtrack than the work of a rock band. For the most part, Tripper isn't even a "band album"; it's closer to a beefed-up solo record, with Johnson's backup band (Sam Wagster, Ron Lewis, and Graeme Gibson) only contributing to one week of the monthlong studio sessions. The rest of the work was done by Johnson and producer Thom Monahan, resulting in a layered sound that stacks overdubbed harmonies onto combinations of pump organ, found sounds, acoustic guitar, and various bleeps and bloops. Whether he's working alone or leading a full lineup, though, Johnson knows his way around a good pop hook, and Tripper's best songs are rooted in catchy, sunny melodies that shine through their heavy wrapping paper. The ambient stuff is nice, too -- different than what Fruit Bats fans are used to, perhaps, but proof that Johnson knows how to stretch his legs without losing his balance. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi Hide synopsis

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