Release Date: Apr 8, 2016
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Frightened Rabbit have been turning ugliness into an artform for a long time now. Scott Hutchison’s lacerating turn of phrase posits characters at increasingly desperate points in their lives. That feeling you get at 4am, bottle still in hand while you fight back vomit, all the time thinking ”fuck it. Just FUCK IT” – that’s where they reside.
Midway through last year, London-based music publication The Line of Best Fit ran an illuminating piece about the recording process for Frightened Rabbit’s then untitled new album. In the article, lead singer Scott Hutchison mentioned a shift in sound. When pressed upon what he meant, Hutchison replied, “There are more electronics definitely. For example, in the drums we were working with software and MIDI a lot more, and that’s coming through.
There’s something frighteningly exciting about deciding to up-sticks and move to a completely alien city. It’s that rush of having a whole new world overwhelmingly laid out in front of you to explore that makes moving somewhere unfamiliar something everyone needs to do at least once. But, when that desire to go back to what you know so well, what’s comfortable to you, strikes, you can quickly find yourself picking apart everything that’s wrong with your new home.
Give or take a month, it’s been ten years since Frightened Rabbit put out the first run of Sing the Greys on the tiny Hits the Fan label. It seems pertinent, then, to revisit the band's debut album ahead of the release of its fifth. Sing the Greys is more lo-fi, obviously; the crackles in the production and the rawness of what was then a two-piece still induces goosebumps of nostalgia.
Despite their indie roots, the Scott Hutchison-led Frightened Rabbit have become better known for a more widescreen approach of late with their mainstream rock-infused tales of heartbreak. Painting Of A Panic Attack settles in with a sense of familiarity courtesy of the delicate organ playing on opener Death Dream. As the interplay of layered instrumentation slowly builds, it’s the melancholic air to the lyrics that proves most affecting.
The fifth studio long player and second major-label release from the petrified Scottish mammals, Painting of a Panic Attack offers up another swoon-inducing, bloody-sleeved collection of erudite indie rock anthems that distill angst, both existential and situational, into fist-pumping crowd-pleasers. Produced with measured aplomb by the National's Aaron Dessner, the 12-track set sees frontman Scott Hutchison returning full-time to the fold after his 2014 solo outing under the Owl John moniker. Born out of homesickness for his bandmates and the old country -- Hutchison spent much of his post-Owl John existence on an extensive Los Angeles staycation.
Three years have passed since Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit released their critically acclaimed major label debut, Pedestrian Verse. The record was their fourth studio LP and was the culmination of years of hard work, which had seen them grow from what was originally Scott Hutchison’s solo project into a fully fledged band. This progression was matched by the songwriting as they achieved the scale they had long been searching for.
Four albums in and Frightened Rabbit are dab-hands at this business now. Their brand of melancholic indie is distinctively Scottish yet its appeal has spread far beyond the country's borders. Now signed to a major label, they have grown in sound and commercial stature, all the while maintaining the folk sensibilities and emotional awareness that hooked both independent and mainstream interest.
“Life might be good right now, but there’s a lot of hard times ahead,” Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison told a small child in the front row of his acoustic solo set at the End of the Road Festival in 2013. “Someone’s going to break your heart someday.” He then launched into “The Modern Leper”, a song that described his current emotional state as being on par with a horrific bacterial infection. Frightened Rabbit’s latest album, Painting of a Panic Attack, is their first since Hutchison made the move from gloomy Glasgow to sunny Los Angeles to pursue a relationship that, for all intents and purposes, seems to be going well.
“This next song is called ‘I Wish I Was Sober’,” Scott Hutchison told a packed crowd at Rough Trade in New York several weeks ago, introducing a new song from Frightened Rabbit’s fifth full length record, Painting of a Panic Attack. Amused, grinning with teeth under auburn scruff and a sweaty glaze, he laughed and followed it up with, “Oh come on, you’re at a Frightened Rabbit concert, if you want to feel good about yourself go see the 1975. ” That sense of awareness and onstage candor is what perpetuates the band’s dedicated following and the continued understanding of who their fans are, allowing them to mature musically, evolving as artists without sacrificing the poetic dolefulness Frightened Rabbit excels at.
Whether it serves them right or not, Frightened Rabbit are exactly in the place many predicted they would be as they complete their first decade together. The Scottish quintet, led by earnestly snide frontman Scott Hutchinson, have always been at they best when they ratchet up the lyrical intensity, a notable component that has always overshadowed their fairly shambolic anthems. During the span of five albums they’ve seen a steady increase in popularity that’s completely unrelated to their jump into major-label territory after the release of 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, mapping out a meaningful career that’s filled with stories of relatable heartbreak and drunken disillusionment.
Forming in 2003, Frightened Rabbit established their reputation with ramshackle anthems of heartbreak and hangovers that presented frontman Scott Hutchison as self-loathing, self-destructive, but ultimately sympathetic. By 2010, success and expanding ambition started to strain against their underdog appeal. That tension was projected onto the anxious, thickly overdubbed The Winter of Mixed Drinks.
It’d be easy to scan the tracklisting of Frightened Rabbit’s latest record and assume things are about to become all doom and gloom. For the most part, that’s not too far from the mark. After all, with an opening offering as dark as ‘Death Dream’ – with its ominous piano opening and lyrical subject matter - it’d be all too simple to see ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ as a morose fifth chapter in the band’s career.
Sometimes two distinctly good-sounding things come together and don't quite synch like you wish they would. No matter how independently persuasive their formulas for musical emotiveness, there's always the question of chemistry when it comes to the first time collaboration of artists with already evolved identities. One wouldn't figure that this important intangible is a point of concern in the coalescence of Scottish outfit Frightened Rabbit with the production of The National's Aaron Dessner.
Dialing back the buoyancy and bombast of the celebrated trio of albums that preceded it, Frightened Rabbit turns to a more graceful sound on Painting Of A Panic Attack. This latest project finds the veteran Scottish band at its most somber and direct, with a dozen songs that trace the group’s way through existential and often familiar struggles and an ever-present search for a way to rise above that difficulty. The title comes from a lyric in the album opener “Death Dream,” in which reverberating piano chords hang like an impressionistic painting as frontman Scott Hutchison sings of fear, disappointment, and the steady march of age.
Enshrouded by a pervasive, ethereal gloom as pretty as it is sad, Frightened Rabbit's fifth full-length rolls a dense fog across the evening – lovely until you get stuck driving in it. Unlike some of the Scots' previous works, which thrive on pseudo-stadium anthems and dark, swelling pop, Painting of a Panic Attack doesn't quite get there. Less swelling, more sand pits, the moments of crescendo here are few and far between.