Frightened Rabbit Find Their Courage

Frightened Rabbit-Pedestrian Verse-Atlantic-4 STARS

Though rich in layers of sound, Frightened Rabbit’s new album, “Pedestrian Verse,” conveys a sweeping sense of emptiness. The first track, “Acts of Man,” opens with piano chords: a simple group of notes that is progressively covered by waves of new sound. Vocals arrive first, followed by a silky, electric hum similar in timbre to violins. The next instruments to join the building music are hollow drums, then an insistent electric guitar melody, and finally, more voices join the first. By the end of “Acts of Man,” and for the rest of the album, the themes of vulnerable loneliness disappear into compensating layers of sound. Frightened Rabbit is preoccupied with filling the vacant spaces in life with wandering, enveloping noise; this artistic obsession with emotional and musical voids is verbalized in  lead singer and lyricist Scott Hutchinson’s verse on “Holy,” “You’re acting all holy / when you know I’m full of holes.”

“Pedestrian Verse,” the band’s fourth album, stands as the group’s best effort to date, bolstered by richer lyrics and more varied instrumentation than previous work. Although the intertwining layers of sound are not new for Frightened Rabbit, the more melancholy subject matter and minor-key melodies on most of the tracks are more present in this album than in any of their previous records. The upbeat, almost teasing prologues to each track that can be found on previous albums, like “State Hospital” or “Winter of Mixed Drinks,” are missing from “Pedestrian Verse”—instead, most songs start with a few spare, sorrowful beats. Whereas the gradual layering of sound acts as a means of building momentum in Frightened Rabbit’s earlier albums, in “Pedestrian Verse,” the addition of sound seems an effort to overwhelm the loneliness and fill some musical or emotional void.

Frightened Rabbit, who hail from Selkirk, Scotland, draw much of their lyrical and musical inspiration from Scottish heritage and landscape. The five band members sing through Scottish accents and make reference to Viking origins through refrains of torches, skulls buried underneath “the paving stones,” and drunken priests. The layered quality of their sound recalls the bagpipe, which emits a dull buzzing underneath the higher, louder melody, a subtle layer that is present in most of Frightened Rabbit’s songs. Even when they are not making direct reference to the island, Frightened Rabbit’s lyrical mood is as overcast as the Scottish weather, an ambiance made apparent in the line, “The candle is blown, we start the black march home / Through a stale and silent night.”

Though the instrumentation is fresh and varied in texture, Hutchinson writes mainly about feeling alone and inadequate. His lyrics—many of which confess a desire for sleep and describe paranoid insecurities—sound all the more stark against the foil of the lush music which backs them. In many of the songs, a chorus takes over from Hutchinson, helping him towards the height of the track. The multitude of voices are a comforting contrast to the often lonely sound of Hutchinson’s vocals.

At times, these voices seem to back up the emotions of one of the performers. When Hutchinson sings, “Please don’t steal me from my house,” the voices that rise to accompany him enforce his protest. It seems that the whole album is a defense in some way: the performers intend to speak for all those who have ever felt alone. Indeed, this is such a salient theme throughout the album that there are two songs with the refrain, “You can’t carry me away now / Please don’t steal me from my house,”—the first titled “Housing (In)” and the reprise, three songs later, titled “Housing (Out).” Both songs are similar in their chorus and tempo, but the second is shorter and ends more abruptly. The two similar songs spaced between other tracks on the album contribute to its overall symmetry. When the same lyrics and melody return, it is as if the performers are returning to an unfinished thought.

“Housing (Out)” leads into the final song on the album, “Oil Slick”—a surprisingly hopeful song that seems to recall the recent BP oil spill as Hutchinson sings, “Sound like an oil slick coating the wings we’ve grown.” Frightened Rabbit leave the album with soft bird calls as an answer to the solitary feeling that dominated the beginning of the album, when the single voice and spare instrumentals left a lot of musical territory empty—they open the insular, claustrophobic emotions of the performers to outside noise at last.

—Staff writer Virginia R. Marshall can be reached at virginiarosemarshall@college.harvard.edu.

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