Mastersystem – Dance Music

Full disclosure: I had no idea this Frightened Rabbit side project existed until news broke of Scott Hutchison’s early May suicide. And I’m not certain I would have sought it out had I been aware, as the Rabbits seemed to be in one of the troughs of their maddening cyclical inconsistency. Then came the inevitable playlist additions that accompany a favorite musician’s passing, and this simultaneously welcome and painful discovery.

Coming off Frightened Rabbit’s egregiously overproduced and somewhat orchestral Painting of a Panic Attack, perhaps Hutchison was looking for an antidote. If so, he and brother/drummer Grant found it with another pair of British siblings, Justin and James Lockey (of Editors and Minor Victories, respectively) in forming Mastersystem. The result more closely resembles Editors’ dour alt-rock, if anything. Its pounding drums, rumbling bass and buzzing guitars are a fair distance from any corner of Frightened Rabbit’s catalog, even as Scott’s unmistakable and affecting voice remains the center of attention.

It may be due to hindsight surrounding the harrowing events that transpired a month after the album’s release – after all, dark lyrics have always pervaded Frightened Rabbit’s work. Or it could be the maelstrom that envelops Scott’s words this time around. Whatever the reason, it’s hard not to hear Dance Music as an In Utero-level cry for help, or a final lashing out. Some of the songs’ bridges even recall Nirvana’s tonalities.

Hutchison sings of “a clutch of disenfranchised souls, coming back to walk me home/ We realize we just need a proper home,” on opener “Proper Home,” and things get no happier on the subversively catchy “Notes on a Life Not Quite Lived.” Many artists have plumbed similar depths, but found therapeutic value in doing so, or at least managed to steer clear of the abyss.

Hutchison sounds more defiant on “Old Team” (the title an apt Mogwai nod), the strongest standout on an album with several of them. “One last try, I might get it right,” he declares, amending his statement to “I will get it right” on the second pass, to a musical backdrop that sounds closer to Aggro Rabbit than anything else on the ironically titled Dance Music. Sadly, two songs later “A Waste of Daylight” sounds in retrospect like a farewell note.

If only we had the chance to tell Scott he did indeed get it right – not only here, but more often than not throughout his twelve-year career. Dance Music can’t compare to The Midnight Organ Fight, as it lacks the latter’s subtlety and range – Mastersystem periodically employs the loud/quiet/loud device, but most of the time relies on full-throttle ferocity. Nonetheless it may nudge out Pedestrian Verse as Hutchison’s second best album.

Dance Music
[Physical Education]