Pedestrian Verse

Frightened Rabbit

Atlantic Records, 2013

http://frightenedrabbit.com

REVIEW BY: Kent Glenzer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/25/2013

What if you could find a whistle along version of Perfume Genius, an anthemic  Elliott Smith, or grin-inducing Trent Reznor?  While not sounding a whit like any of them, Frightened Rabbit steps into every one of those niches on their fourth release, Pedestrian Verse.  Produced by Leo Abrahams (who has collaborated with Brian Eno, Imogen Heap, Jarvis Cocker, and Paul Simon), the Selkirk, Scotland band has delivered their best release yet, an album that combines lyrical desolation and pitiless exposition of social alienation with some of the most pulsating, sing-along choruses of 2013.  Depression, homicide, sin, ostracism, and feckless masculinity never sounded so catchy. 

While relatively unknown in the United States, the band was formed in the early 2000s by Scott Hutchison, a painfully shy boy whose mother used to call him by the band’s moniker.  The band’s third album, The Midnight Organ Fight, was voted one of New Musical Express’ top albums of the 2000s; it was an album that slashed and burned relationships until the only good option seemed onanism.  Now, with the help of Abrahams, Hutchison has delivered an album that exposes social discomfort with uncommon rawness while camouflaging the open wounds under distortion-filled major chord guitars, soaring choirs, subtle stratifications of horns and strings, and the odd – and utterly unexpected – synthesizer.  Reminiscent at times in tone and texture of Arcade Fire at their most bombastic, the overall feel of the album is, however, of a dam ready to burst, of curious restraint.  This is an indie band asked to play at a Sunday church service.

Lyrics are everything here, communicated through Hutchison’s thick burr.  In the album’s opener, “Acts Of Man,” a “Knight in shitty armor / Rips the drunk out of her dress,” and lest we think our guide is above the fray, observing, Hutchison tells us “I am just like all the rest of them / Sorry, selfish, trying to improve…I’m here, not heroic, but I try.”  The song starts with Hutchison in unusual falsetto, joined shortly by echoing, Big Country guitars, giving way to booming, march-step drums.  The drums and guitars sound as if they were recorded outside, in some foggy highland canyon, the echoes from near mountainsides reverberating and iterating into an aural vanishing point.  The song answers the question, “what does claustrophobia in the Grand Canyon sound like?”   my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The next two songs, “Backyard Skulls” and “Holy,” are the album’s axis.  They are dark, violent, and rage-filled stories, their messages buried by catchy melodies, bathroom drums, clever guitar hooks, and sedimentary production that rewards many listens.  In “Backyard Skulls,” we are first led to believe that Hutchison is concerned about old wars of enmity until he lets us know his real interests are the buried secrets related to “suburban adultery,” where metaphorical skulls are “smiling at the hypocrisy,” and “not deep enough to never be found.”  “Holy” features an irresistible guitar riff that sounds like The Edge channeling My Bloody Valentine, with Hutchison skewering religious hypocrites while turning the critique back upon himself:  “So leave me alone / You're acting all holy / Me, I’m just full of holes.” 

Estrangement is at the heart of this album.  As is the fleeting yet bewildering surprise of connection, when against long odds relationship happens.  “The Woodpile,” about a socially inept wallflower, builds to a chorus that uplifts with an ambiguous refrain: “Come find me now, we’ll hide out / We’ll speak in our secret tongues.”  The theme resurfaces on the album’s next song, “Late March, Death March,” where a curse in church leads the narrator to darker ruminations and hints at much more serious crimes.  “December’s Traditions” is a first person story of confusion, doubt, and a narrator that knows that the relationship in question amounts to “love’s labour stain [on] a linen sheet.” The album’s red-hot poker in the eye is “State Hospital,” where the social outcast is a girl born into abject poverty who is “A slipped disc in the spine of community / A bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse.”  The song follows her descent into street prostitution yet the song ends with Hutchison repeatedly insisting “all is not lost” as a wall of ecstatic guitars and reverberating drums crescendos behind him.

Pedestrian Verse cloaks dark lyrics behind exhilarating music, ultimately sending a message not of defeat but redemption. “There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through / There is love but its misery loves you / There’s still hope so I think we’ll be fine / In these disastrous times, disastrous time,” Hutchison sings on the album’s last, redemptive song “The Oil Slick.”  You can thoroughly enjoy this album driving fast in a convertible on a warm summer night, caring not a fig about the words.  The whole thing just becomes more interesting if you do.

Rating: B+

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