Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I came to the table intent on burying Frightened Rabbit, I confess. Since 2008’s brilliant The Midnight Organ Fight, this once-beloved trio had entered a spiral toward mediocrity, leader Scott Hutchison adding members and diluting his impact in pursuit of a wider audience. Given reports of a major label signing and bigger budget for Pedestrian Verse I was set to throw in the towel and write off Hutchison’s crew as a rare case of a sophomore outing doubling as career highlight.

Although Pedestrian Verse is no Organ Fight, it’s a hell of a lot more vital than I expected. It seems Hutchison’s one of those poor souls whose songwriting chops run proportionate to his misery index. While Organ Fight was arguably the breakup album of the new millennium, flaccid follow-up The Winter of Mixed Drinks sported hints of sunlight and contentment. I have no idea what personal setbacks Scott has encountered since, but images of bones and death prevail on the new disc, and domesticity is equated with atrophy – this Scot is more at home channeling dark Irish literature.

Producer Leo Abrahams, a frequent Brian Eno compatriot, mostly leaves well enough alone, coaxing a pared-back sound that appropriately keeps the focus on Hutchison’s angst. Occasionally the temptation to recast the band in the mold of the Airborne Toxic Event’s slow-build anthems proves too great to resist, but even some of these brass ring grabs (“Backyard Skulls,” with its mix of guitar stabs, sustained organ notes and synth squiggles) turn out well. And whether as a loud ensemble or near-solo (or as on “December’s Traditions,” alternating between the two), Frightened Rabbit’s grand statements share more DNA with their Irish cousins than their twee Glasgow brethren.

Hutchison even offers a winking acknowledgement to his calling card, singing on closer “The Oil Slick,” “Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write.” So long as he can channel his pain to such rewarding ends, here’s to a diminished mental state!

Frightened Rabbit
Pedestrian Verse