Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gut Feeling: Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital EP

When I heard Frightened Rabbit had a new EP coming out, my first response was “Aw shucks, I wish they had a new ALBUM coming out.” And then I found out they did! And that this is a glorified single for “State Hospital,” which will be on the actual as-of-yet-untitled forthcoming LP. I like this move though. The whole giving the b-sides a good home thing is sweet. State Hospital finds a nice middle ground between proper EP and glorified single. Basically, that means that there isn’t a lot of connective tissue (other than the glorious sad bastard nature of Scott Hutchinson’s Scottish brogue) but all of the songs are good. A couple are great, a couple are just pretty good, and one is an interesting collaboration between Hutchinson and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat. 

“State Hospital” does it’s job in whetting the appetite for the album proper. After two outstanding, insular break-up/post-breakup albums, “State Hospital” sounds like a nice, necessary leap forward for Frightened Rabbit. Hutchinson’s songwriting moves away from his own drama (which is really, truly, magnificent drama and if you haven’t heard Frightened Rabbit’s last two albums The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks you’re certainly missing out on two of the greatest collections of misery music from the last ten years) and writing about fictional characters’ drama and he’s doing it with the same attention for detail and pinpoint emotional resonance that makes the band’s songs so powerful. Hutchinson’s vocals have the same sense of purpose and conviction you get from a great Billy Bragg song. “State Hospital” is (I assume) about a fictional character and it’s sad as shit but the melody is gorgeous and the band works with all of this vast space and expands to the borders and retracts to the very center throughout the song’s four-and-a-half minutes. It is the first time Frightened Rabbit have ever sounded epic. Epic’s a word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to music, but it’s the sort of song that takes you on a journey where all you see out your window is gruesome details and a faint light of hope at the end of the tunnel.

That said, the way Scott Hutchinson can write such intense songs NOT about his relationships kind of cements him as thoroughly legit 100% quality modern songwriter. I mean, he already was, but this is something I didn’t really expect. I didn’t expect to appreciate Frightened Rabbit more than I already do and here’s a new side I didn’t know I wanted or needed. And then you get “Boxing Night,” which was apparently left off the album because it was too much in the vein of The Midnight Organ Fight/The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Vintage Frightened Rabbit but again, the depth and range is vastly expanded this time around. There is so much going on to make this song as affecting as possible and none of it feels shallow or Major Label. It sounds like a band making the best of their opportunities and really getting the most out of the sound they’ve been crafting the last almost ten years (ten years! Fact: I still haven’t listened to Sing the Greys and I really don’t know why. I like to think it’s because I haven’t had time to do so because I’ve been obsessing over their most up-to-date release, what with The Winter of Mixed Drinks being my favorite album of 2010). “Boxing Night” has all those really poignant details that make the best Frightened Rabbit songs great. It’s one of the more terrific songs of the “waiting for the telephone to ring” genre. “I can’t call you mine anymore/ I can’t call you at all, full stop/ But you can call me anytime/ Call me whenever the fuck you want” so the climax of the songs goes. As I said, vintage FR.

“Home From War” and “Off” are pretty much by the books b-sides. That’s not meant to be derisive, but they are songs that experiment (lyrically and stylistically, respectively) with new styles/sounds/forms/etc and work, but work better on their own than they would on an album. “Wedding Gloves,” the collaboration with Aidan Moffat, is a weird one too that belongs right here, at the very end of this glorified single. You can tell Scott Hutchinson is pretty much thoroughly enamored with the fact that he got Aidan Moffat to work on a song with him, but I only say that because his lyrics are so honest and direct he had to have been influenced by Scotland’s most grim and straightforward band. OK, I cheated, I read something where Hutchinson said it was a dream to work with Moffat because he idolized the guy, but oh man, how fucking FUN right? Getting to collaborate on a tune with someone that inspired you to write songs in the first place? This is easily the most Scottish-as-Fuck song in Frightened Rabbit’s catalog. And it’s good. It’s weird, really kind of odd actually. Hutchinson and Moffat’s vocals almost feel like they’re fighting the whole time, like they’re totally ill matched but there’s just so much to like here. It’s the sort of promising EP you want out of a band you love preparing to drop a full length. A sort of “Shit, if these songs weren’t good enough for the record, this record must be made out of solid gold, the foie gras of indie rock records circa 2012/2013!”   

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