Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack

By on Friday, 8th April 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

"FrightenedWhether Frightened Rabbit intended it or not, it seems decidedly appropriate to me that their new fifth album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ is being released during the lively season of spring. Their previous LP, 2013’s ‘Pedestrian Verse’, was a wintertime release, and it was a solid but stodgy affair, cold and dark and without much energy, almost as if the band themselves were heading into hibernation. ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’, by contrast, has a bit of an unexpected bounce in its step, a sense of gaining momentum despite the trademark bitterness of frontman and songwriter Scott Hutchison’s lyrics.

The band’s latest line-up change switches former guitarist Gordon Skene for new guitarist/keyboardist Simon Liddell, who worked with Hutchison and guitarist Andy Monaghan on 2014’s Owl John project. But perhaps the greatest impetus behind Frightened Rabbit’s freshly energised sound is producer Aaron Dessner (The National), who hosted the band in his Brooklyn studio to record the album. His expert touch can also be heard in both the breadth and subtle depth of the album’s expanded instrumental arrangements.

The album’s opening track ‘Death Dream’ is something of a transition from the previous album to the new, but also a somber, slow-moving introduction to the synth-based soundscapes that adorn ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’. Its gently echoing vocals and piano countermelody soften Hutchison’s sharply vivid lyrics, and the haunting choral bridge section turns a common phrase on its head with the repeated line “you died in my sleep last night”. But the next track and lead single ‘Get Out’ is immediately more upbeat, with synthesised drums and keyboards behind emphatic guitar lines. Its captivating opening verse lyric “with the arch of the church between her thumb and her forefinger, I will worship her” leads into the pounding repeated chorus “get out of my heart, she won’t, she won’t”.

Standout track ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ features the combined effect of Hutchison’s finest lyrics and his best vocal deliveries, particularly in the sorrowful line “my love you should know, the best of me left hours ago”. The anxiously building intensity in that song’s outro section carries over seamlessly into the heavily synth-laden track ‘Woke Up Hurting’, whose dark and shadowy verses lead into a pulsing, anthemic chorus.

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For all its brooding thematic material, ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ does find Hutchison becoming somewhat more optimistic in his songwriting, at least relatively speaking. ‘Still Want to Be Here’ finds him employing his effective falsetto tone in a tentatively hopeful chorus that lingers in the listener’s mind long after the album is over. And while there’s no real danger of Hutchison breaking his painful habit of self-deprecation, the chorus to ‘An Otherwise Disappointing Life’ is as close to uplifting as he’s ever been, as he sings of burning his “long list of tepid disappointments” in a figurative funeral pyre.

‘Blood Under the Bridge’ is another stark example of Hutchison’s perverse but clever wordplay with common phrases, in this case making the implication of deep emotional damage, but also expressing a willingness, even a determination, to move on. ‘400 Bones’ is a slower and even more introspective piano-based track whose title refers to two bodies lying together in bed. It might be the closest thing to a romantic love song we’ll ever hear from Hutchison and company. It’s quickly contrasted with the harsher sonic tones and social commentary of ‘Lump Street’.

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Final track ‘Die Like a Rich Boy’ is the perfect culmination to a deftly written and deftly arranged album, its acoustic foundation gradually unfolding to a fuller arrangement in both the voices and the instrumentation. Hutchison’s insightful lyrics, inspired by his recent move to Los Angeles, come across as both gently touching and pointedly ascerbic as he intones the vocal melody under lines like “I wanna die like a rich boy diving, in a hydrocodone dream / you could die like a rich girl by me, oh how the magazines would read”.

Though Hutchison ultimately decided that Los Angeles wasn’t the city for him, it appears that some time in the Southern California sunshine might have had a positive effect on his songwriting. ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ features some of his most refined writing to date, which producer Dessner describes in the album’s press release as “a step above anything he’s written before.” Musically, the record combines the strong rhythms and countermelodies of Frightened Rabbit’s earlier albums ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ and ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ with the synth-flavouring and atmospheric sound effects of the more recent ‘Pedestrian Verse’. In essence, the band have attempted to find a new sound by building on their own established strengths, and ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ is the successful result of their experiment.

8.5/10

‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ is out today, Friday the 8th of April, on Atlantic Records. Frightened Rabbit will embark on a UK tour in support of the album starting next week; you can find all the dates here. TGTF’s collected previous coverage of Frightened Rabbit is back this way.

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