Let’s get this out of the way first: Frightened Rabbit’s new album ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’ is exceptional. If major label debut ‘Pedestrian Verse’ felt transitional, then the follow up is a band renewed, a group of musicians exploring fresh new ground while remaining true to the colours and hues that first defined them.
Of course, the band itself has changed. Frontman Scott Hutchison now lives in Los Angeles, and a sense of dis-location dominated his 2014 solo project Owl John. This unease remains, with ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’ finding Frightened Rabbit returning to the intensity of their acclaimed second album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.
‘Death Dream’ is a languid but unsettling opener, while ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ and ‘An Otherwise Disappointing Life’ leave bloody wounds, with Scott Hutchison making deep lyrical incisions upon his own sense of regret and self-loathing. It’s not all maudlin fare, though; ‘Get Out’ is a surging tale of survival, while ‘Blood Under The Bridge’ bids adieu to some of the troubles, the struggles that have beset the past.
The international songwriting process – Scott Hutchison worked largely from Los Angeles, while the rest of Frightened Rabbit based themselves in the UK – re-iterates the shifting dynamic within the group. In fact, Frightened Rabbit have rarely felt so much like a band – unexpected sonic elements seem to define each song, from vocal harmonies to instrumental dissonance, building up into a quite unique aural lexicon.
Producer Aaron Dessner, too, plays a significant role. ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’ was one of the final projects to be completed at his Brooklyn studio, the site of numerous endeavours from The National. It would be churlish to compare the two bands, but there’s a similar sense of confidence, of daring, at work here. Dessner pushes the band to make plentiful use of space, with the stripped down arrangements allowing each part to gain just slightly more prominence.
The album ends with ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’, a track that places one of Scott’s most barbed lyrics against a simple, subtle, even pastoral arrangement. It underlines much of the bravery at work on the record – the tinkling piano notes that sit beneath his voice, before gradually each successive colour is filled in to let the full canvas sit independently on its own.
It is, simply, one of their finest works to date. ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’ could not have been made by any other band, yet ironically it finds that band shifting upon new ground. By radically altering both their working methods and their songwriting Frightened Rabbit seem to have provided new impetus, new momentum for their work. It’s a wonderful record, one to wrestle with, one that lingers at odd moments of the day and night. Allow it to seek you out.