Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
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. It was a terrific, exciting introduction to the band, and one that brought them to the attention of FatCat Records in Brighton, who subsequently packed them off to tour the States.
The rest is history, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Painting of a Panic Attack is certainly more polished than Frightened Rabbit’s first album, but it’s remarkable how many variables remain constant. Despite the line-up changes, shifts in location and personal life traumas that have been played out on successive records over the past decade, the core and essence of the band remain the same, and it’s still as brilliant as it has ever been.
Just as it was impossible not to be seduced by the lyrics Scott Hutchison penned ten years ago, so it remains. Hutchison is a songwriter whose sleeve must surely be threadbare now, given the number of times he’s worn his heart on it. And if the first couple of records were showcases for his masterful way with melody, then the decision to democratise the songwriting process with their last record has opened up new channels of melody to explore: the celestial chorus lines of Woke Up Hurting and Little Drum on this new LP are among those moments of pure magic an artist might hope to unearth once in a lifetime. Without fail, Frightened Rabbit dig a few out for every new release.
Which isn’t to say that Hutchison and Frightened Rabbit have stagnated: the progress has been incremental, but certainly noticeable. In a conversation before the release of Pedestrian Verse, the Hutchison brothers spoke of lessons learnt from the recording of album number three, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. While the album sold by the bucket-load, both expressed some regret over the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality they brought to the studio, in part due to the pressure of following up The Midnight Organ Fight.
Painting of a Panic Attack continues along the same subtle evolutionary path as its predecessor, on which the brothers avowed to go back to basics. It was recorded in Brooklyn, with Aaron Dessner of The National at the helm (one of the final albums made in his home studio).
On the swashing feedback of lead single Get Out – very similar to the shoegazey guitar found in parts of The National’s Trouble Will Find Me – and on the ominous piano and ethereal harmonies on the superb Lump Street, Dessner’s fingerprints are faint, but detectable. Rather than scorch the earth, he has tweaked Frightened Rabbit’s sound here, adding depth and variety to a fine set of songs, much in the same way he has helped mastermind the success of his own band.
Perhaps the main differences between the two bands is that while The National’s lyrics are mostly obfuscatory, Hutchison’s remain as candid as ever. This is slightly less verbose than the most gloriously loquacious parts of Pedestrian Verse (see: State Hospital), but it’s poetic, it’s dark, it’s witty, it’s grim, it’s blunt and it’s lovely. Hutchison’s move to Los Angeles in 2014 has given him a whole cache of new material, best reflected on I Still Want to Be Here and Lump Street, which envisage LA street scenes in Ellroy-esque noir. His turn of phrase (“the tinnitus of silence” on opening track Death Dream) remains up there with the very best, and listening back to Sing the Greys, evidently, ‘twas ever thus.
Upon the release of his Owl John solo project two years ago, Scott Hutchison suggested that he’d recorded it so that Frightened Rabbit wouldn’t go stale. Perhaps he wouldn’t appreciate compliments on the band’s consistency, but this record is testament to exactly that. If someone were to ask, what do you want from the new Frightened Rabbit album, it would probably sound something like Painting of a Panic Attack: a record made up of excellent songs, with a few great ones chucked in to raise the bar.