Metro Weekly

Fruit Bats: ‘A River Running to Your Heart’ Review

The latest album from the Fruit Bats contemplates the meaning of place, daring us to do the same.

Fruit Bats - Photo: Chantal Anderson
Fruit Bats – Photo: Chantal Anderson

“And the words to this song, while geographically specific/They could apply to anywhere, or any of you.”

With those opening lines to the single “Waking Up in Los Angeles,” Eric D. Johnson helpfully gives us a roadmap not only to the song but to his entire state of mind on his latest outing. On paper, the words are almost clumsily blunt.

But Johnson, the songwriter behind Fruit Bats and the band’s sole permanent member, writes lyrics with a particular poetic sensibility, one that appreciates subtlety but knows that sometimes the point you’re trying to make calls for a sledgehammer. Johnson has a gift for using the exact right words at the right time, and it once again serves him well on his tenth outing with his longtime band.

A River Running to Your Heart (★★★★☆) is deeply preoccupied with the idea of the places we plant ourselves and what they come to mean to us. This time there is a pronounced sense of immediacy to the songs, leaving little doubt that River is an album about some very particular places as much as it is about “place” as a concept.

These are not exactly places that we can go and visit ourselves. Instead, they are places as experienced by someone in a particular state, often at a particular time.

Johnson, it turns out, has a lot of insights into what makes a place feel like home, and they land all the more strongly for their casual delivery. He is surely not the first artist to romanticize the city of Tacoma, but the way he does so on the song of the same name feels singularly his own.

It lingers on a city that means a lot to him, never explicitly telling us why that is. Over plucky, upbeat rhythms, he acknowledges with a note of sadness in his voice that “the only place that makes him feel alive” has a life of its own and it might not want him back after all.

Despite the occasional trip up the coast, however, A River is firmly grounded in L.A. and its environs. For Johnson, who relocated from California to the Midwest and then back again, the Golden State looms large. His time away seems to have inspired a reverence in him which can be seen on the standout single “Waking Up in Los Angeles.” The song’s evocative lyrics hover just on the verge of being too clever and too verbose, but work perfectly for what he’s trying to pull off.

California and the neighboring Pacific Northwest have always featured heavily in Fruit Bats’ music, but often it has been most present in the folk and indie influences they have grounded themselves in and the nebulous dreamy, easygoing, earthy vibe that (fairly or not) tends to evoke the west coast.

This album is no exception, although its production is noticeably more clean and slick. It does, however, maintain the organic warmth that marks the best of Fruit Bats’ recent work. It keeps a slow, steady pace, but does so deliberately. The melodies do blur together in the mid-latter part of the album, but with the exception of the laconic “It All Comes Back,” none of them feel especially laggy or overly drawn-out.

The more energetic tracks like “Rushin’ River Valley” and “Sick Of This Feeling” are spaced out just enough. The album goes out on a high note, too, saving one of its most high-energy tracks for the very end. “Jesus Tap-dancing Christ (It’s Good To Be Home)” almost demands to be played again immediately, if only to spend more time with its infectious chorus.

A River Running to Your Heart is one of those records that goes at its own pace on its own terms, and is completely effortless to follow along with. With its polish and easy rhythms, it wraps its joy, melancholy, and flashes of profundity in gentle, easy-listening indie folk. The relatively simple melodies are crafted with grace and precision, with just enough added at just the right spots to make it not just a memorable listen, but a standout example of Fruit Bats at their best.

A River Running to Your Heart is available to stream and download on all major platforms. Visit

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