Finding myself affected by Frightened Rabbit’s music is something that always catches me off guard. Disillusioned with indie-rock for the most part as I imagine many others are these days, Frightened Rabbit are one of the acts that provide me with a small glimmer of hope. Hope that beyond bastardised-folk and what has evolved into soulless stadium-rock, there are still stories to be told; pictures to be painted; emotions to stir. With their fifth full length offering, Painting of a Panic Attack, that hope continues to grow.
It has been ten years almost to the month since the band released their debut album, Sing the Greys. Painting of a Panic Attack arrives in perfect time to remind us why Frightened Rabbit remain nothing short of indie-rock royalty. Initially a solo endeavour, the Scottish four-piece (Gordon Skene departed from the band in 2014 shortly after the release of their last album, Pedestrian Verse) have continued to build upon a reputation for crafting emotionally riveting music. In a live setting, the knack for capturing the attention of perhaps an unassuming audience is amplified both literally from the stage and figuratively, from somewhere deep within.
As front man Scott Hutchison pointedly argues in an interview with The Line of Best Fit, it would be insulting to fans of Frightened Rabbit to presume that what they want to hear is simply more of the same. Not only that, but with the conclusion of Pedestrian Verse, the band also found something akin to closure, perhaps linked to some degree with the departure of Skene. “It feels like what we’d been chasing for years came to a conclusion on Pedestrian Verse. It was time to reassess where we wanted to go, and what sound we wanted. It was almost like starting afresh. We all wanted to make a bolder, but not necessarily bigger record… just one that has more purpose.”
Enlisting The National‘s Aaron Dessener as producer has undoubtedly assisted greatly in creating this album which so brims with that purpose. Involved from early in the process, Dessner has not impeached upon the Frightened Rabbit sound with that of his own band’s, but rather has removed some of the panicked urgency of previous albums, allowing for more of a slow-burn. And so, we find ourselves presented with an album less preoccupied and wrought with fret and more interested in being emotionally honest, open and mature.
Interesting then, the references to what one can only assume are actual panic attacks throughout.
Understandable, as during the writing of this fifth album, Hutchison found himself based in Los Angeles – a city he had never had much fondness for but where his partner lives. Listening to the songs he had written with his bandmates through sending components back and forth now across the Atlantic, and understanding that this is only their second effort composing as a band (Hutchison undertook the writing duties previously), it is difficult to ignore the feeling of being caught in a type of limbo that makes itself omnipresent.
Death Dream brings us into the album with a slow, purposeful dance along piano keys, shivers of percussion and Hutchison’s vocals draping over the track as he introduces the theme and describes the anxiety of his situation with utter poignancy. This sense of nostalgic pathos is achieved not simply through lyrics (though “A still life/ Is the last I will see of you/ My painting of a panic attack” is nothing is not and arresting image) but through the subtle intricacies of the arrangement which so bolster them.
On Get Out, we find Frightened Rabbit dancing with electronic flourishes, something new and surprising which generates a more spacious sound for the band. However, for a moment, I find myself worrying that we are wondering dangerously close to arena rock territory. I Wish I Was Sober does well to quell those concerns, while simultaneously exploring Hutchison’s long (self)documented relationship with alcohol. Woke Up Hurting rattles through, marrying Hutchison’s knack for words with instrumentals equally intricate and impressive.
Still Want To Be Here is perhaps the most literal interpretation is the in-between state Hutchison found himself in while in Los Angeles (and perhaps continues to as he seems to have remained there). While he finds himself feeling increasingly isolated in the unfamiliar city with unfamiliar and unfriendly faces, he still wants to be near his partner. An Otherwise Disappointing Life is rife with reliability (“I have a long list/ Of tepid disappointments”) while Lump Street meanders through (presumably) Los Angeles and moves from a downtrodden, grimey outlook to something which is somehow more…. upbeat.
It is closer, Die Like A Rich Boy, with its acoustic guitar and clear vocals however, where we find a middle ground between Frightened Rabbit new and old. Hutchison’s lyrics are wordy, bright, observant, but they still keep space for this new approach to instrumentation and production. The song builds upon itself, much in the way Frightened Rabbit have over the past decade; familiar without sounding the same. It is a perfect end to the album, wrapping up Painting of a Panic Attack not necessarily neatly, but in such a way that simply no other sound would have done.
A humbly confident offering comfortable with exploring emotion and anxiety but also which also knows when to respect instrumentation over lyrics means that Painting of a Panic Attack may just be Frightened Rabbit’s best offering to date.
Painting of a Panic Attack is out today through Atlantic Records.