(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

By on Thursday, 31st January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Frightened Rabbit Pedestrian Verse coverFrightened Rabbit’s new release ‘Pedestrian Verse’ comes in the midst of a productive time for the Scottish alt-rockers. Since the release of their last full-length album ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ in March 2010, Frightened Rabbit have signed with Atlantic Records, toured extensively (making a name for themselves in America in the process) and released new material in the form of two EPs. The second of those, ‘State Hospital’, was a precursor to ‘Pedestrian Verse’ and contained tracks that the band had road-tested and recorded for possible inclusion on the full album.

Of the five songs on that EP, only one, the eponymous ‘State Hospital’, made it onto ‘Pedestrian Verse’. In a somewhat surprising twist of perspective, songwriter Scott Hutchison gives a dramatic third-person telling of a sad and well-worn story: “Born into a grave / and in the limp through years of bored schooling / she’s accustomed to hearing that she could never run far / a slipped disc in the spine of community / a bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse.”

The lyrics on this album are less acutely personal than those on Frightened Rabbit’s previous albums, particularly on ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. Though Hutchison himself billed 2010’s ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ as a less personal album, the songs on that album still contained moments of stabbing heartache. ‘Pedestrian Verse’ feels like a more resigned, chronic sort of misery. While Hutchison has maintained his unyieldingly graphic writing style, he now turns his brutal scrutiny outward. The visual imagery in the verses is as sharp and often grotesque as ever. If the choruses are predictable, they are also, as always, cathartically anthemic.

‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the first Frightened Rabbit album on which the entire band actively participated in writing the music. While the lyrics bear Hutchison’s trademark, the effect of collaboration on the music is evident. The album has somewhat less variety than its predecessors, but synth keyboards and electronic effects (such as those in ‘Backyard Skulls’) are more prominent. The backing vocal parts more ambiently harmonic than contrapuntal, which creates a bit of a hazy effect, like the stuffy feeling of a head cold. Countermelodies have been shifted to the instrumental parts, particularly guitar solos such as those featured in ‘The Woodpile’ and ‘December Traditions’. Drummer Grant Hutchison earns his keep, as always, banging out heavy rhythms and providing forward motion to music that might otherwise stagnate in the wretchedness of the lyrics.

‘Acts of Man’ opens the album with a tender piano intro and Scott Hutchison’s best pure falsetto, contrasting sharply with the deliberately vulgar lyrics. The lilting verse “I am that dickhead in the kitchen / giving wine to your best girl’s glass” builds slowly into the chorus “not here, not here, heroic acts of man”. Almost every song on the album follows this basic pattern of light introductions and lyrically dense verses rhythmically driven into heavily climactic and repetitive choruses.

Sonically, the most captivating moments on the album are found in the sparse musical introductions. ‘Late March, Death March’ features piano and percussion, accompanied by whistling in the background. ‘December Traditions’ begins with a recitative-style voice line backed by an eerily thin guitar. ‘Dead Now’ includes an interesting bass line, which is uncharacteristically melodic throughout instead of the usual ostinato drone. I was glad to note that Frightened Rabbit continues to experiment with symphonic form in their use of reprise, represented here by ‘Housing (In)’ and ‘Housing (Out)’. Another bit that caught me by surprise because of its lateness in the track sequence was a slight melodic modulation in the guitar line in ‘Nitrous Gas’. Hutchison may have been onto something with the lyrics “suck in the bright red major key / spit out the blue minor misery”, but that late-blooming idea doesn’t come to fruition until the album’s end.

The album’s final track ‘Oil Slick’ is Hutchison’s obligatory, self-aware song about songwriting. The most upbeat song on the album, it features springy guitars and a bouncing vocal line that almost made me want to dance. Hutchison laments his internal writing process in the lyric: “I came home with four worn-out limbs and not a single love song.” Later in the track, he essentially summarizes the album, “how predictable / this is all you’ve got.” But then he finishes on a more positive note: “still got hope / so I think we’ll be fine / in these disastrous times.” The song fades out to the sound of sweetly tweeting birds.

‘Pedestrian Verse’ is gray and moody overall, and while many of the lyrics are eloquent and evocative, the music is mostly formulaic. The sporadic but brilliant moments of variety left me wondering what the result would be if Scott Hutchison and company attempted to write about something pretty, or even (dare I suggest it?) happy. Perhaps Frightened Rabbit will be inspired by the extended change of scenery on their upcoming tour.

7.5/10

‘Pedestrian Verse’, the fourth studio album from Frightened Rabbit, will be out on Monday (4 February) on Atlantic Records. If you have the luck to be at SXSW, be sure to catch them at this year’s event; they were a late addition to the SXSW list the second week of January.

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3 Responses

2:09 pm
31st January 2013

RT @tgtf: Carrie reviews the new @FRabbits: (SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse: http://t.co/h3KuOle1

3:51 am
1st February 2013

RT @tgtf: Carrie reviews the new @FRabbits: (SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse: http://t.co/h3KuOle1

[…] ‘Pedestrian Verse’ at the start of the month; read Carrie’s review of the album here. Last week we showed you the video for ‘Today’s Verse’, the b-side to ‘The […]

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