Frightened Rabbit’s music has never been particularly upbeat. The Scottish indie rock quartet has made their name from dour, folky rock songs that have endeared them to their passionate fanbase.
For most of their career, they were the flagship band of the Glasgow label Fat Cat Records, which is also home to the likeminded groups The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks. They left the label for Atlantic Records in 2013 and released the terrific Pedestrian Verse, which saw the band lose none of their originality from their move to a major.
On their second major label album — and fifth overall — Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit have recorded the most dark and sullen album in their discography, and one that this is still uniquely a Frightened Rabbit album despite some tweaks to their sound.
The album was produced by Aaron Dessner, lead guitarist for The National, and mixed by legendary British producer Alan Moulder. The pair are a good match for Frightened Rabbit and Dessner in particular has a great ear for how to best bring out the band’s somber sound that he most likely picked up from his day job. Dessner’s production compliments the band’s darkest set of songs yet, inspired by singer and songwriter Scott Hutchinson’s move from Scotland to Los Angeles and his subsequent feelings of isolation and homesickness.
The cavernous late album cut “Lump Street” takes a few listens to fully appreciate its dark, claustrophobic mood, shoegazing inklings and eerie synthesizers. It’s a good sampler of everything that’s different about the album from earlier Frightened Rabbit records. The album doesn’t change much of the band’s sonic palette with the exception of synthesizers, the presence of which are more heavily pronounced here than in previous entries in their discography.
For instance, the first single “Get Out” starts with a bubbling synth hook before transitioning away from it and into a more traditional structure for one of the band’s songs. The song’s most interesting feature isn’t the synths, but the sudden jolt in volume that comes with every chorus. It’s a bit of a surprise when the first chorus suddenly bursts to life out of the slower verse and the song keeps that momentum for the rest of its playtime. “Get Out” follows in the tradition of other anthemic Frightened Rabbit singles like “The Woodpile” and “Nothing Like You” and is a good indicator of the rest of the record.
Many of the other songs are dark and dominated by interplay between guitars, synthesizers and heavy percussion, particularly on “I Wish I Was Sober” and “Blood Under the Bridge.” Album highlight “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” trades on another well worn chestnut for this band, meshing singer Scott Hutchinson’s downcast lyrics with anthemic mid-tempo folk rock.
The opening track “Death Dream” moves a bit slower than some of the other tracks on the record, creeping slowly into life and building towards a round of the lyric “you died in your sleep last night,” a macabre lyrical double entendre that is very much in keeping with Frightened Rabbit’s well worn trademarks.
The quality of Painting of a Panic Attack serves as a testament to the band’s strengths as an instrumental unit and their unique, highly recognizable sound that comfortably accumulates to the increased presence of synthesizers and gloomier-than-usual lyrical content. It is a welcome entry into Frightened Rabbit’s consistently excellent discography