Release Date: Aug 4, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Review Summary: Lives up to Frightened Rabbit's best material, at times even eclipsing it.The fact that Owl John is the solo debut of Frightened Rabbit front man Scott Hutchison provides an enormous, almost canopy-like backdrop of perspective. It’s why the entire album feels self-deprecating and masochistically introspective, not to mention the primary reason that “we suck one another at night” is an acceptable – nay, endearing – lyrical passage. But alone, that simple detail doesn’t convey the natural beauty and enormous emotional scope that resides precisely within the covers of its case.
While there are distinct and obvious similarities between Scott Hutchison's project Owl John and his full band Frightened Rabbit -- the folkish indie rock, warm vocals, and reverbed crunchy guitars all present -- there is also purpose to the fragile honesty that manages to root itself into each lyric on his debut solo effort. There are also plentiful signs of Hutchison expanding his musical boundaries here, delving into an array of atmospheric, electronic influences while also trying his hand at a gritty bluesy riff or two on what is a varying record. The advent of Owl John doesn't spell the end for Frightened Rabbit by any means, but it instead allowed Hutchison the freedom to explore his songwriting in a more creative way while his bandmates took time off following their successful fourth album, 2013's Pedestrian Verse.
Recorded on the Isle of Mull in between periods of writing with his band Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchinson purged his thoughts and made a solo album that creaks and rattles with self-hate and bitterness towards the outside world. With the ceremonial Hate Music as its axis – a cathartic, caustic war of words that comes across like Biffy Clyro and Queens of the Stone Age at a couples therapy session – the album feels at once soiled by the damp mud and drab skies of the Inner Hebrides, and also caught under the polluted, burnt-orange skies of an American city. But no amount of slide guitar can separate the Scotsman from his homeland completely: the dank nature of his lyrics are pure British doom and gloom, whether discussing romance ("We suck one another at night"), fame ("Chloroform the singer who has nothing to say") or introspection ("How can I come to be such a stupid boy?").
Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison is no stranger to the world of solo projects. Back in 2003 when the band had just begun, Hutchison was essentially going it alone. Frightened Rabbit gradually added members and fleshed out its sound, but Hutchison was still writing the bulk of the parts for these songs. That all changed upon the release of their major label debut, Pedestrian Verse, when the band took a more collaborative approach to its songwriting and set the goal to continue down that road.
Owl John is the pseudonymous debut solo album from Frightened Rabbit’s front man Scott Hutchison. Or is it? Sing The Greys may have been released as the band’s first album in 2006, but it originated very much as Scott’s solo project, with his brother Grant later joining him on drums. And although Scott has always been the principal driving force behind the Scottish indie band, writing all the songs on their first three albums, as with last year’s album Pedestrian Verse, on Owl John he shares the songwriting credits for the music even if the lyrics are still exclusively his.
'Different enough to have a reason to exist' may not be the most glowing endorsement of your debut solo album. But Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison has built his name on a self-effacement that borders on self-flagellation. His name may now be Owl John, but he can't fully separate the rabbit from his fears. The fact that this is a solo record also presents its own problem.
Frightened Rabbit is so-called because lead singer Scott Hutchinson was said to resemble one when he was younger. His new, solo, side project, Owl John, is presumably named to characterise his growth, maturity and wisdom. The music certainly makes it seem that way. The disjointed nature of the record makes one wonder how long the Scotsman has been sitting on these songs and whether only now, with Frightened Rabbit realising their potential and achieving wide appraisal, does he have the time to take a break and release his individual efforts.