A couple years ago, Naperville native Eric Johnson retired his long-running pop band, the Fruit Bats, opting to release an album under the name EDJ. At the time I found his decision a little odd, because Fruit Bats' lineup had been shifting constantly from the beginning, both in their original Chicago incarnation and later in Portland, Oregon—how can you break up a band that doesn't really exist? Earlier this year, when Johnson announced that Fruit Bats were returning—they dropped a new album called Absolute Loser (Easy Sound) last month—I was likewise at a loss to explain why. But reading up on what he's been through over the past few years made sense of it all.
When Johnson made the 2014 album EDJ, it was his attempt to purge the grief he felt after his wife suffered a miscarriage in 2013. I didn't spend much time parsing the album when it came out—compared with his previous work, it sounded insular, and it was too spartan for my tastes. Of course, now its melancholy introspection makes sense. Absolute Loser certainly suggests that Johnson has gotten back on his feet—it bristles with the sort of sparkling pop-rock that first earned him his reputation, and its elegant melodies have the irresistible post-John Lennon soul of his best work. Below you can check out the silly new video for "Humbug Mountain Song," today's 12 O'Clock Track, which layers banjo licks, pounding piano chords, and a typically hooky tune over an unexpected disco groove. Fruit Bats play the Beat Kitchen on Thursday night and Do Division on Sunday.