Now Hear This! Frightened Rabbit (2009)

Now Hear This!
Music You May Have Missed
By Jonathan “Killstring” Herzberger
Originally published in The Cauldron (2009)

Summer is over.

There, I said it. Best to start off with these kinds of things, get them out of the way early. It’s okay to be sad – we’re sad too. Go ahead and have a good cry if you need to – we at the Now Hear This institute of Musical Awesomology are a non-judgmental lot, and everybody deals with summer’s transformation into autumn differently.

Some of us hit the books with a vengeance. Some find a renewed vigor for campus involvement, hurling ourselves into groups, and activities on campus. Most of us aren’t going to come out of the gate with such gusto – most of us are planning on dragging our feet, oversleeping at least once the first week, and generally be pulled, kicking and screaming, back into the routine of the semester.

Then again, some of us wake up face down in a gutter, utterly confused as to where we are, how we got there, and if it’s realistic to think that fate has something personal against us.

The rest of you are dismissed. I’d like to talk to my fellow vagabonds for a moment – nothing personal.

Good. Now that it’s just us rogues, losers, and castoffs, we’re going to talk about a Scottish indie pop band called Frightened Rabbit. Write that down – probably next to the slightly smudged phone number with no name attached, that you don’t quite remember getting. Frightened Rabbit. Everybody caught up? Good.

The first Rabbit shows were one man and a guitar, the brand stretching its (hind?) legs, as frontman Scott Hutchinson’s stage name for his solo shows. Frankly, the early shows were disjointed, messy, hungover affairs. Delightfully so.

“Some of the songs still didn’t have words and I was mostly just mumbling nonsense half the time,” quipped Hutchinson in an interview with UK-based zine God Is In The TV.

Story of my life, Hutch. Thanks for putting it to music.

Powerful music, at that. After recruiting his brother Grant to play the drums, and guitarist/bassist/multi-instrumentalist Billy Kennedy, the band’s sound had evolved into something both upbeat and downtrodden, urgent and lazy, carefully crafted, in a thrown-together, garage-y sort of way.

Confused yet? It gets better/worse.

In May of 2006, the band locally released their debut, Sing The Greys – because you know, the blues just seemed too vibrant. The album was released stateside in October 2007, and even with all the fancy remastering, and major label support, the album carries that undeniable ‘garage’ feel to it. Imagine if The Strokes got all over-confessionally drunk, or if Counting Crows were young and homeless, sporting switchblades and hangovers, or if The Frey had any talent.

Zing!

Snarky jabs aside, Greys is a solid, if unpolished record – especially when you consider it was essentially recorded in a basement, and had an original run of 1,000 copies. Actually, considering that, it’s a freaking miracle – imagine what these guys could do given the chance to make a ‘real’ record.

Sounds pretty good, right? That’s the power of IMAGINATION, kids! Having said that, give your poor, tired brain a rest – once this week is over, you’ll be done with the ‘getting to know you’ part of the semester, and you’ll need the poor thing. Luckily for all of us, the Rabbit in question added another bandmate (guitarist/keyboardist Andy Monaghan) and put out a big, fancy, major label release on Fatcat Records.

The ensuing album, called Midnight Organ Fight (Curious about the title? It’s a euphemism for hot, dirty sex. Now you know) got the full indie darling treatment, up to and including nabbing Peter Katis (Interpol, Guster, Spoon) to produce, and the requisite trendy press buzz. Calm down, hipsters – calm down. The record deserved the hype in this case. Hey, it happens.

Opening up with the deliciously self-conscious “The Modern Leper”, in which Hutchinson’s drawling brogue regales us with the idea of leprosy as a metaphor for his social aptitude, Fight starts out in the gutter, and reaches for the stars. Snappy indie rock guitars match with the bombast inherent to bands like Elbow – which the Rabbits happily claim as an influence – there’s a grand sort of scope to these loser ballads, giving bitter, half-intelligible rants about how ‘you never loved me anyway’ the sort of epic scope that they usually only possess in our minds.

It’s a record about loss, about lust, about losers losing exceptionally well – hey, everybody’s good at something. The insidiously catchy melodies of tracks like “Keep Yourself Warm” can get you in trouble, make no mistake about it. Fight is a record thick in rich metaphor – but if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself absent-mindedly singing things like “you won’t find love in a hole/it takes more than f***ing someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm” at inopportune times – like in front of your significant other’s parents.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to apologize. Sorry guys – the restraining order’s really not necessary – it’s just a song, honest.

In summary, sometimes life kicks you in the gut. In those times, it’s ok to get up slowly, and a record with this kind of grandiose, naked human emotion is exactly what you want for those moments. But sometimes, life kicks you in the teeth. And when that happens, a record like this is the perfect soundtrack for sweeping said teeth out of the gutter, putting them under your pillow, and making a wish, that maybe the tooth fairy’ll bring you a stroke of luck for a change.

That, and it’s only nine bucks on Amazon.com today. Stop reading this and go buy it.

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