Embarrassing Fruits debuted with a split release shared with Greensboro's Blank Blank, tellingly titled Sumr Stupid Drunk Fun. The trio's next outing, the First Time EP, was a breezy, nostalgic trip into early adulthood, charming and playful despite its strict discipleship of Dinosaur. Jr and Pavement. By last year's nine-song LP, Community/ Exploitation, the preceding record's confused and lovelorn speakers and peripheral characters had begun "making babies" and casting romantic reminiscences of teenage boredom as a foil to adult stress. Those three releases played like a running commentary of Embarrassing Fruits growing up.
Thematically, there's a touch of resigned acceptance of youth's sunset to the Chapel Hill trio's latest, Frontier Justice. The band's label, Trekky Records, insists, "Both Norkus and [bassist Lee] Shaw expound upon the frustrations and joys of navigating the nebulous world of late 20s life in the over saturated, vanishing frontier of America." Nowhere is this more true than on "Long Distance Breakup Summer." The song's speaker unspools stories of the failed relationships, both romantic and platonic, summed up with direct simplicity: "Long distance breakup summer/ Bridges burning left and right/ Short wind pandemic bummer/ There's nobody to party with tonight." By the end, though, Shaw, in his first stint leading behind the microphone, extols the virtues of stability, hammering "I'm so glad I got you" into the song's conclusion.
Having replaced bassist Andy Baker, Shaw has transitioned seamlessly into his role as Norkus' complement. The trio's '90s fetish lives on in its Sebadoh drawl and staggering Mascis-meets-Malkmus guitar melodies. It still sounds like the Fruits are rocking out in some Shady Lane garage, perhaps a bit wizened and more assured of their finesse but hardly upsetting the neighbors. Hints of The Hold Steady's dense verbiage and hard nods toward Weezer's first album peak through. By now, though, the Fruits' aesthetic is well-established. These additions augment without disrupting.
The First Time EP might have charged a little harder, and Community/ Exploitation might have had more fun, but Frontier Justice might well be Embarrassing Fruits' most confident and mature effort. As they continue to age, Embarrassing Fruits look more and more like a band we'd like to grow older with.