Midnight Organ Fight
[Fat Cat; 2008]
On the surface, Scottish trio Frightened Rabbit are like a lot of other bands. You could file them away with other musicians from their Glasgow scene, or other bassist-free groups, or other bands of literal brothers (frontman Scott and drummer Grant Hutchison are siblings). But somehow, despite the fact that their methods are well-worn, their product is one-of-a-kind, as their consistently great second album (in under a year, no less!) attests.
The key here is Scott's urgent-yet-emotive songwriting. Midnight Organ Flight is full of rousing barnburners that flicker with soul, ballads that ache with masculine vulnerability, and Frightened Rabbit's best song yet, opener "The Modern Leper". Built on insistently downstroked guitars and drums that build from a gallop to a thundering crash, this Pixies-go-acoustic track swells with self-loathing. "Is that you in front of me/ Coming back for even more of exactly the same?/ You must be a masochist/ To love a modern leper on his last leg," sings Scott, and rarely has a song with such anthemic, air-drum-worthy fills been shot through with so much personal revulsion.
Grant's muscular drumming is a highlight throughout the record-- and on stage. At a recent New York show, the band hadn't yet made it through two songs before he'd splintered three drumsticks with his powerful pounding. With the absence of another instrument to hold down the rhythm section (guitarist Billy Kennedy does occasionally fill out the low end with keyboard), he uses his percussion-- the satisfying hiss of his cymbals, the breathless insistence of his thudding kick drum, the delicious sizzle of his marching-band snare-- to saturate the empty space in the compositions. Flailing about at his kit, he keeps time wildly yet melodically, controlled amidst the chaos.
Despite the trio's static (and relatively spare) set-up, Scott's songs imbue the band with an elastic identity. Scuzzed up tracks like "Fast Blood" and almost-bluegrass weepers like "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms" prove that Frightened Rabbit have stretched beyond the melancholic folk-pop of Sing the Greys. But elsewhere-- most notably "My Backwards Walk" and "Old Old Fashioned"-- they re-confirm their dedication to the sound they perfected on their debut, playing electronic and acoustic guitars against each other for stomping mid-tempo gems that pulse with nervous energy and heart-on-sleeve lyrics.
Though nothing else on the album hits the pop high of its opener-- "Leper" is a tough act to follow-- its I'm-not-worthy sentiments are prevalent on all the album's best tracks. On "The Twist", a desperate yet tender ballad built on a similar freight-train piano line as LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends", the protagonist practically begs for sex-- "I can be who you like," he pleads-- while sadly allowing himself to be used. "Whisper the wrong name," sings Scott in his accented bagpipe drone of a voice, "I don't care and nor do my ears." In track after track, Scott expresses that need for the warmth of another, however unworthy he may feel of it.
Those sentiments are also echoed in "Keep Yourself Warm": "You won't find love in a hole/ It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm." He's wallowing, but Scott's cracked voice sells every word, and his band's rousing rhythms and rough-hewn guitar interplay keep the mood from ever getting lugubrious or maudlin. Sure, Frightened Rabbit aren't the first band to explore loneliness, horniness, or emptiness in song, just like they aren't the first set of siblings to decide to jam together, but their jangly melodies claw their way inside your brain just the same, making them latest in a long line of Glasgow bands to effortlessly combine celebratory sonics and miserablist lyrics into something singular.
-Rebecca Raber, April 14, 2008