- by Kenzie Fitzpatrick Rating:9 Release Date:2016-04-08 Label: Atlantic Records
If you ask me, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually likes change, be it in their personal life, at work, etc. Often, when bands make the transition from an indie label to a major label, it is as evident in their sound as much as it is in everything else they do. As such, it can be hard for fanatical fans of music (much like myself) to acknowledge that a label jump might bring a diversification in sound along with it. (Let’s admit it. No one wants their favorite bands to change.)
And as much diversity as moving to a new label can bring, a shift in band members, relocations, and working with a new producer will only add to it. To say that the last two years have been interesting for Scottish indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit would probably be an understatement.
When you look at Frightened Rabbit’s musical catalogue in its entirety, though, their progression from album to album is in no way disappointing. The band’s latest effort, Painting Of A Panic Attack, continues the evolutionary trend witnessed on 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, but thankfully, doesn’t come at the cost of sacrificing what makes them unique.
In 2014, the band’s singer/guitarist, Scott Hutchison left Scotland and moved to LA in order to be with his girlfriend. (The weather might have had something to do with it, too.) As you would imagine, his move across the Atlantic informs much of the album’s lyrics and themes, as a result.
Painting Of A Panic Attack opens with ‘Death Dream’, which contrasts Scott Hutchison’s honest, expressive lyrics and vocals beautifully against a sparse instrumental backdrop. He sings, “A still life is the last I will see of you / My painting of a panic attack.” Musically, it’s an uncomplicated song—highlighting Hutchison’s lyrical and vocal abilities and making them stand out even more.
The pulsing ‘Get Out’ comes next. It’s as classic a Frightened Rabbit track as any. It’s spiritual lyrics and imagery are reminiscent of the band's debut on Atlantic Records, Pedestrian Verse—and will certainly please fans. ‘Get Out’ climaxes during the chorus as the band kicks in and Hutchison sings “Get out of my heart / She won't, she won't.” As exciting as new love can be, it can be scary, too—and Hutchison’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of the kind of obsessive love that can be, at times, utterly terrifying.
On ‘Woke Up Hurting’, Hutchison sings, “I woke up hurting / But I can’t quite say why.” A large part of what has made his lyrics (throughout the entirety of Frightened Rabbit’s discography) so moving is the unflinching honesty with which he writes. It’s hard not to relate to. These lyrics, combined with the song’s electronic undercurrents and layered, warm instrumentals, are juxtaposed against one another in a truly remarkable way. It feels distinctly reminiscent of the rainy Scottish days that I imagine Hutchison was missing.
On the acoustic closer, ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’, he croons, “I want to die like a rich boy even if we’re as poor as we are now.” The songs tells the story of a couple who, as bleak as their current situation may be, still manage to see the light—the tunnel to crawl through—and are able to imbue their own hope in the listener. It’s an appropriate way to close an album that, while tackling some heavy themes, succeeds in not being overwhelmed by them.
While recording Painting Of A Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit worked with a new producer—Aaron Dessner of The National. The album, in part, was recorded at his studio in Brooklyn which, coincidentally, also happens to be where The National recorded High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me. And if I’m being honest, his influence throughout the duration of the album is palpable.
Painting Of A Panic Attack takes the Frightened Rabbit we all know (and love) and turns it on its side. The key elements of what make the band unique still remain, but that’s not to say there aren’t changes to be heard as well. Scott Hutchison is still very much the same person and the tone of the album is still Frightened Rabbit—it is just achieved in a slightly different fashion. Largely, the album moves at a slower pace. The typical anthems have been replaced (in a few instances), with slower songs that may require some getting used to. It’s an album that will undoubtedly be called a “grower” by some. Overall, there is a larger, more noticeable presence of and emphasis on electronics than ever before. But the band, with the help of Dessner, manages to tie these newer elements in with the “classic” Frightened Rabbit sound quite well.
As big of a departure as Painting Of A Panic Attack may seem for some fans – it isn’t one that should dishearten listeners. While working with Dessner may have brought out a different side of Frightened Rabbit, it’s a still side of Frightened Rabbit that existed. And if I know anything about life, it’s that the only constant is change. At least in this case, it's the good kind.