Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

6 things about myself that this album proves to me:

1. I am a 90s boy.
This sounds like “Alternative.” By which i mean like Big Shiny Tunes 2. Every song on here sounds like a 1997 conception of what the mainstream would see as edgy. It’s more of a “sound” than a setting, though the setting is right too! Basic instruments, each with their own space in the mix, with the vocals dead in the middle and the treble about two notches higher than the bass. Sounds like being at some cool kid’s house in tenth grade and thinking he was so cool because he had mix CDs of bands that were cooler (but not too much cooler) than the bands on Much Music. Plus, fuck layers of synths, 80s drum machines, R&B wailing, and anything unknowingly cornball.

2. I am a sucker for hooks.
Really, the measure of whether I care about a song is the extent to which it sticks in my forebrain, and I enjoy listening to this because, no matter what else, these guys have a nose for putting hooks everywhere. Nearly every song on here has at least a couple hooks, and often in strange places – memorable repeated drum fills, codas, the way a baseline rides a drum line. They were better at writing breakup songs than they are here at tackling 30-something ennui, but anything can be forgiven with enough hooks hooks hooks. Try to get that line about being trapped in a collapsing building out of your head once you hear it – zounds that’s catchy, and out of nowhere! I still have “Call Me Maybe” stuck in my head from last summer.

3. I am a sucker for big singles.
The big problem here is that there are no huge breakouts that tower above the rest. There’s about ten “very good” songs, but zero that rise above that. And damnit, those are the ones that really matter, this isn’t baseball, where you can lack superstars but have a bunch of good players and still make the playoffs. The last album wasn’t very good on the mode, but the singles live on in my hard drive forever – this is a much better album overall, but there’s no “Living In Colour” or “Nothing Like You.” The best might be the lead single, “State Hospital,” but that’s because it’s a very impressive song (dem lyrics!), not because it’s stupid catchy.

4. I like Scottish accents.
Not the least because I can correctly call it a “brogue.” But really, it makes every song have a bit of subliminal greatness. And occasionally liminal, but usually it’s just an air of yes that makes the occasional dull verse a bit better.

5. I’m an emo little man.
I miss the constant references to drinking to excy ess. I like the constant references to unhappiness to excess. Other than “State Hospital” (aww, poor people!), and the “Housing” mini-songs (aww, urbanity!), I can’t really be bothered with much else. I’m over the lack of breakup songs, but that’s probably my lengthy current relationship talking. I really want to love the Modest Mousey self-deprecating song, though it just isn’t catchy enough to make up for its rather simple self-deprecation. And it’s nice and all that FR are trying to write songs about people other than the lead singer’s personal experiences, but those songs have to work harder to pique my appreciation, due to the fact that see above.

6. I love shitty songs, but on random compilations.
This album is about four songs too long. Those songs should be fucked like the worthless whores that they are. Come on, there’s no way that they didn’t know that “If You Were Me” and “December’s Traditions” are fairly crap.

7 / 10

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Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital EP

Well, it’s my last night alone in my shared condo before I move in with my girlfriend, so I’m sitting here wearing an unzipped sweater, with my belly just kinda hanging out. It’s awful and I wish I was different. Let’s talk about this little EP.
FR’s last EP was pretty goddamned good – all pathos and Scottish accents and catchy songs. This one has too many damned slow songs. If this is a lead single then I fear for the future. The title track feels like the 90s, all slow, real drums and a melody that’ll stick with you if you pay attention, and hey, it’s about poverty, which is a heck of a topic to pull off for a band that’s best at writing breakup songs. It’s not much of a single, but it’s a solid song, and genuinely evocative. Shit, it’s like a sweet, Scottish Tracy Chapman song, kinda. But all Death Cabbed up, naturally.
But you don’t have to go far to find a breakup song, because “Boxing Night” is back to spending the holidays getting drunk again, and you just know that’ll make me love, and it’s catchy and mostly acoustic, too! Sounds emo, but the matter-of-factness and sarcastic drawling of “call me whenever the fuck you want” save it by a longshot, if you aren’t familiar with FR.
Sadly, the next three songs are definite B-side fodder, and I’m too tired to be articulate about them. They’re all kinda boring, but then a line about a chain-smoking factory reminds me that, really, this is a special little band. They display all the signs of a being a regular nonsense indie band, but the brogue combines with an ability to articulate things that interesting people feel, married to catchy-ass hooks, and without knowing them I’d say they sound like the best normal band ever.
But, man, this is the lead single? An excellent but album trackish title track, a great B-side, and three throwaways? They could’ve at least thrown in who gives a fuck.

6 / 10

A Frightened Rabbit EP

I’d been to some bad new albums for a whole day before playing this here (free!) EP, and within ten seconds the opener, “Scottish Winds” wiped the awful sound from my ears and replaced it with appreciation for good music and all the feels that it makes me feels, all while making me want to sing loudly and practice guitar.
Just three songs here, but they’re all mint, and hey, it’s free. The opener, which as I’ve already mentioned is called “Scottish Winds,” is your classic indie rock song – mega-hook of a riff, catchy melody, but fuck if it isn’t the bestest new riff/melody you’ve heard in weeks, and it’s about looking to one’s Scottishness for inspiration and strength – aww! And it’s not even about eating pizza crunch and getting rained on! Lots of good stuff here, including a completely, wonderfully gratuitous swipe at the fucking English. Damned if this song didn’t at first make me feel sorry for myself for being Canadian. I mean, we have the second biggest country in the world, and far more people than Scotland, or Finland, or Ireland, and they all totally have their own cultural identities, so what the eff? But it’s obvious enough if you think about it – we weren’t here for all of the European struggles with religion and Rome, then our greatest military triumphs were as protectorates (1812) or satellites (WW1) of the fucking English. By the time it was time to forge an identity we ruined our cities with suburbs and identified as only “not American,” and now all that joins us is ice hockey. It’s pretty pathetic – we barely even have accents – and in our greatest city, Toronto, we’re still fighting between extremes defined by other places – European liberalism and American conservative populism – there have been a few leaders – Trudeau, Chretien, Layton – who strove to make Canada a thing, but it didn’t catch except for 70s immigrants. Anyway, then this song made me happy to be Jewish – Jewish enough anyway – not because being Jews are inherently better than anyone else, but because it’s a hell of a cultural legacy to inherit. All of a sudden I have something in common with Leonard Cohen and Yitzhak Rabin and many more. It’s hard to write a song about being Canadian with anything other than a mash of satirical feelings because we have almost no past, only a present that we’re fucking up, and when we do anything right it’s a bit shocking. But being Jewish is a nice box to check, even if I’m a sad Canadian in my heart.
Oh hi, there’s two other songs here, and they’re also both good! “Fuck This Place” is a Stars-y slow-building ode to drinking a night away in a shitty town (though they’d never title a song “Fuck This Place”), and “The Work” is an acoustic, melancholy tune about getting older and retiring. And both are memorable! And both are duets, the latter with some really Scottish guy, and the first with a silky-sounding Scottish lady.
A small release, but three great little songs – and they’re all about interesting things! See, still lots of things to write songs about! And none of them are whiny or solipsistic – FR have never seemed like big privileged Holden Caulfield assholes, and this is a positive.

9 / 10

Frightened Rabbit – Nothing Like You

Oh, for the days when artists put four songs on each single, and often issued two versions of each single to get higher on the charts! Oh, my shining long lost singles chart!

This single has one album-borne A-side and an exclusive B-side that I’m sure will show up someday on an iTunes compilation with a title like “Rabbits Too Frightened – Outtakes and Live Rarities.” Not that I’m really mourning the era of paucity of material here. “Nothing Like You” is a cheerful, bitter indie rock with a typical, driving riff. It’s not spekky, but the chorus of “There is nothing like someone new / And this girl she was nothing like you!” Is a burn, and I likes me my lyrical burns. The B-side is “Learned Your Name” and it’s not really worth learning too well. It’s slow and quiet and vaguely sad and unmemorable lyrically and musically. So you can stuff it in a potato bug and call it Franklin; I wouldn’t trade it for half the feta in Bangladesh.

6/10 

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Gosh, it’s a “lush,” “atmospheric” post-breakout album that really explores the space of the studio and fills in the gaps in the recording. Really allows for more time to feel the atmosphere. Really just allows them to kind of, you know, generate more chi with the music. Really broadens the artistic horizons considering the addition of lots of other instruments. Have you seen this one? It’s an African fiddle that has one string. It’s really soulful; a lot of African music is just more authentic. It’s important to use the studio to its full potential and get more in touch with the hidden dimensions of the songs; it isn’t all about melody and lyric, it’s about getting into the gaps in the space and just feeling it out. Instruments are important, but they’re only a small part of atmosphere. Hooks are for beginners; real artists create gestalts.

Real artists don’t have to feel what they write about. It takes guts and courage to get outside of yourself and truly create. True listeners are those who find an idea and feel that they can apply it to themselves, so it’s best to create music with that universality, some of us call it “It.” People don’t want to hear about that time you were in London and you saw a knife fight with your then-fiance, people want to hear about being “there” seeing “the fight” with “you.” And people pay for records! It’s poor practice to be difficult. Drums that change are out, drums that go thump-thumpthump! slowly are in! “Fun” is out; lush is in.

Lush like a fucking forest. Of sound, man! But fuck, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is a great song, totally rising above how it reminds me the 40 Year Old Virgin and is laughably optimistic. There are a couple other good indie rock songs too. “Nothing Like You” is wonderful in its snideness and the title is a great way to spend every winter and “Foot Shooter” has some lovely “aah”s despite the lyrical cliche that follows. They’re obviously a good band, but next time, less succling your music babies and more banging it out.

Isn’t it annoying when new hot people turn out to be boring and whimless? I miss New York.

5/10

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land

Oh, it’s a rare two-song CD where you consider both songs for inclusion on a playlist for a newly single friend!

The title track is one of those love-it-the-first-time, would-work-in-any-language-they-should-put-it-on-the-next-Beagle songs that make you feel wonderfully aware that though we are full of anarchy, that we are ugly under our clothes, that we behave worse in worse countries, that light bulbs give 98% of their energy to heat, that we are capable of creating wonderful, inspiring works of art in our age group, of our kitsch, in our mental patois, that maybe it’s not all for dead and that we should frolic in our depression. It’s about getting away from the bad things and the bad times, and it manages to rise above its existence as an already gone work of North American art almost considered unartistic to make me want to call lost friends to say “you’ve missed out on a lot of fun, kid” and continue and continue hitting repeat even if I’m not interested in a drowning of the past at the moment. We can soar on arpeggios. I believe in the ability of modern music to transcend, like Remedios if the world had more grace. In conclusion, I kinda like it.

The B-Side’s good too! It’s called “Fun Stuff,” and it’s a rather sad post-coupledom song, in the style of the last album only more subdued (no drums, and the only electric guitar is way in the back of the mix playing awesome weird scrounching noises) featuring the memorable verse (though you have to strain to hear it a bit) “I am quite alright / I can laugh just fine / I am not depressed / Not all the time / But the fun stuff is much less fun without you.” Awwwwwwwwwww! Awwww! I could have included those “aw”s in the quotes and it would have been accurate, too! I thought you’d like that verse, Gilleen.

At three in the morning we had already walked a mile, down the hill, and onto the dock. Ever go in a sauna then jump into cold water right after then repeat? Neither have I. That’s why I didn’t mention it. It’s great.

10/10

Frightened Rabbit – Quietly Now! (Liver! Lung! FR!)

A live, mostly acoustic, song-for-song, in order, almost note for note run through of “The Midnight Organ Fight.” Minus the two instrumentals. Well, without “The Pink Bookmark” this album is nothing, so I give it a zero!

So it’s a very good album that sounds weirdly subdued thanks to the predomination of acoustic guitars, with odd crowd noise and minimal banter. Really takes the oomph out of “The Twist.” Hey, I doubt they gave a fuck. Everyone seems pretty jazzed about “Old Old Fashioned” though. “The Midnight Organ Fight” is a funny euphemism for sex. It took talent to make that line that goes “it takes mooooore than fucking someone you don’t knooooow to keep warm” work. Also, the lyrics to “Head Rolls Off” are clever and nice. Well, that was a nice forty minutes of listening to this album, now for up to sixty years of never listening to it again.

6/10