Searching for simplicity in a complicated world is where we find Scotland's indie rockers Frightened Rabbit on their latest album Painting Of A Panic Attack. Produced by The National's Aaron Dessner at his Brooklyn studio, the album carries on the moody legacy that Frightened Rabbit has become known for, with a bit more polish and maturity.
Since their 2013 album Pedestrian Verse, much has changed for Frightened Rabbit. With the departure of guitarist Gordon Skene, and band leader Scott Hutchison moving to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, there was motivation for the band to take a different approach to recording their latest offering. Hutchison told The Line of Best Fit:
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.
Hutchison admits that the sound has changed with Painting Of A Panic Attack. In the same interview with The Line of Best Fit, he explained, "It might be a bolder, less meandering, maudlin record than before. The messages are simple, the structures simpler, and the instrumentation more direct." The songs are less guitar-driven and the influence of Aaron Dessner is obvious in The National-like use of dreamy, synth-filled sound scapes, but the lyrics are still as much an entrance into Hutchison's graphic mind as ever.
Overall, the mood of the album is dreary and vulnerable, with moments of hope. It starts out with "Death Dream," where Hutchison sings of seeing someone commit suicide in a dream of his. He discussed the dream in an interview, saying, "It was just so well directed and strikingly beautiful. The camerawork was positively Hitchcockian." This cinematic theme carries on throughout the album as we are allowed into the dark world of Hutchison.
Highlights of the album include those tracks that are less focused on Hutchison's relationship with others, but his relationship with himself. Tracks like "I Wish I Was Sober" and "Woke Up Hurting" have him describing his everyday struggle where he feels the need to drink to get through the day, but always wakes up regretting it. These songs capture the habits he can't break.
Hutchison also habitually falls into situations that completely encompass him, most namely: love. While songs like "Get Out" tell of his fight to be released from the clutches of an unhealthy relationship he can't seem to escape with its driving hard rock sounds, "Still Want To Be Here," "An Otherwise Disappointing Life," and "400 Bones" are dreamy and sweet. They reference his current relationship with his girlfriend, beautifully describing her as, "My safe house in the hurricane" and "200 treasured bones."
Strewn amongst these sweet synth-filled songs of love and driving songs of self-evaluation are those like the upbeat melody and pounding sound of "Break" that seem to harken back to the Frightened Rabbit of old. In a track-by-track guide to the album that Hutchison shared with Gigwise, he talked about the band getting back to their garage rock roots:
This one really benefitted from Dessner's now dismantled garage studio. Whilst we were upstate at Dreamland, Aaron would wax lyrical about the magic of The Garage and we didn't quite believe him, but he was right. There was something pretty great about that little room and you could really work up a sweat, particularly in the middle of a ballz hot New York summer. So, this is quite literally our finest "garage rock" since Sing The Greys, which was also recorded in a garage. What happened to keeping cars in those things?
On "Lump Street," Hutchison transports you to a scene practically out of Angela's Ashes, with a young couple brought up during tough times in a hard area. Unlike the preceding songs, this track is less obviously structured and journeys through a narrative much like "State Hospital" from Pedestrian Verse. While it starts out slow and building, it finally bursts open with sound at the conclusion with such a relieving release that makes the final acoustic finger-picked track "Die Like a Rich Boy" wonderfully pleasant.
Painting Of A Panic Attack feels like an album released by a grown up Frightened Rabbit. It is a solid offering by the band, but may be missing some of the old quirk and wit that we've come to love. Still, it is full of detailed imagery and masterfully told stories that this band continues to impress with.
Painting Of A Panic Attack is available on Amazon. You can also stream the full album above, via Spotify.
Also check out our review of their show at Brooklyn's Rough Tade NYC on March 29, 2016.
For the latest music, news, and tour dates from Frightened Rabbit, check out their Zumic Artist Page.