Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Painting of a Panic Attack
Written by: HES on 19/04/2016 16:40:13
Frightened Rabbit has, again and again, impressed me since I stumbled into one of the band’s shows as a substitute reviewer, ending up completely blown away by the intensity of the Scottish folk-rock ensemble. I have since dived into former releases “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks”, “The Midnight Organ Fight” and lastly “Pedestrian Verse”. Unlike some of the die-hard fans of the band I enjoyed the latter just as much as the older albums – the magnitude and grandiosity of the album spoke to me and “State Hospital” is to this day on every short list I make for “best songs ever written”, but with that being said, so is “Keep Yourself Warm” from “The Midnight Organ Fight”. I naturally expected “Painting of a Panic Attack” to the same way unfold in a soaring magnitude. But this new record is strangely introvert and understated. For the same reason, the album is reluctant to let the listener in.
The opener “Death Dream” already forewarned this as one of the singles pre-released, with its whispery falsetto verse and almost stagnated progression. Vocalist and main composer Scott Hutchison paints the anxious state the album title also tries to emulate with oddly withdrawn lyrics atop a beautifully concocted landscape of soft piano and circling guitar-motifs. The album ends in a slightly withheld crescendo of canonical vocals singing “I died in my sleep last night” carrying back into the chorus with suspended, lagging drums, almost holding the song back from really taking off. And this may all sound like a negative description, and it was close to being that for the first few listens, but this sensation of slowness – like walking in water – I realized is exactly what it describes: A painting of a panic attack: Wanting to move, but being unable to escape your mind, losing connection to your body, the rhythm, being lost in your mind, the lyrics. It’s a premise for most of the album that makes it a harder listen - it will make you less excited than the explosions of some of the former releases, but it carries some kind of profound statement that at least haunts this scribe.
This restraint somehow allows for a more ambient soundscape, where pianos, horns and organs create a comfortable, but almost too captivating cloud of content sadness – like on “Little Drum”, where Hutchison proclaims “It’s too late to start a war” as he disappears from the soundscape to leave room for an instrumental outro, continuing into the delicate “I Still Want To Be Here”, as Hutchison defeatedly proclaims his insufficient love to an unnamed woman. The soundscapes on both tracks are warm and filling, as opposed to the older album’s more straightforward use of the exact same instruments. Strangely “Painting of a Panic Attack” is more solid in sound than the former albums, but also more porous, pensive and retracted. The best allegory I can think of is that of an ocean: The older albums were more of a sea with high, violent waves, and “Painting of a Panic Attack” is still a body of water in constant distress, but most of the distress only constituting itself underwater – yet you still feel the tsunami brewing. The most obvious juxtaposition, however, is to Hutchison’s recently released solo-project “Owl John”, that was definitively angry and aggressive. To run through it way to superficially: “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” and “The Midnight Organ Fight” were albums written in major, “Pedestrian Verse” was written in minor, “Owl John” was written in anger and “Painting of a Panic Attack” is written in an emotionally lethargic state.
But on an album that is dominated by depression, a little light is permitted in the both uplifting and yet completely halted “Get Out”, that paints the picture of a man that somehow both reviles and feeds off his own melancholy. Same goes for the exhilarated “I Wish I Was Sober”, once again placing Hutchison in the center of the narrative – a beautifully crafted narrative that sports a collection of thoughts like: “Choke down the gateway drug. Opened the gates, in came the flood, it comes like a blush of love, it hits me without warning. Long nights of getting lost, I walk beneath the bridge I don't know. I need a black suit for tomorrow, I'm in mourning. My love you should know the best of me left hours ago, so shove it right into my mouth and let me smolder . The imagery, the play on symbolism and the overall melancholy of lines like that make me realize how hopelessly I am in love with Hutchison’s way of expressing himself and I'm completely incapable of not spontaneously combusting into a shivering mess of goose bumps, when one such line breaks through the soundscape upon the first few listens.
“A Painting of a Panic Attack” is probably one of those albums that will divide the fan base into two trenches – as Frightened Rabbit albums have a history of doing, but I expect a lot of this contention to subside as soon as the album gets to grow on the audience – as I think we can by now conclude is also a Frightened Rabbit tradition. The fact is that the “A Painting of a Panic Attack” has just as many well-composed songs as the former releases; they are just styled less bombastically. However, the band has managed to add so many small touches in the shape of the choirs on “I Wish I Was Sober”, distorted horns on “I Still Want To Be Here”, honest acoustics on “Die Like a Rich Boy”, jangly guitars on “A Lick of Paint” on the extended version of the album, resounding quietness and circling piano motifs in the vein of Death Cab For Cutie on “The Wreck” as well as the more electronic touches on the entire album, and curios rhythms on “Wait ‘till The End” - and the list could go on. As with any other Frightened Rabbit album “Painting of a Panic Attack” also deals a little bit with the same issues as some of the former releases: Mid-tempo tracks that do fade a bit in comparison to the spotlight tracks: Like “Blood Under The Bridge” following the up-tempo, catchy “Break”. It still doesn’t diminish the fact that both are great songs. I do miss the angry and bitter, profane version of Hutchison that we got to know on tracks like “Keep Yourself Warm” from “The Midnight Organ Fight”. And in many ways appreciating Frightened Rabbit’s new sound is mixed with the feeling of loss of the old sound, making the thematic of loss on “Painting of a Panic Attack” even more profound.
Download: Woke Up Hurting, Wish I Was Sober, The Wreck, An Otherwise Dissapointing Life, Break, Little Drum
For The Fans Of: We Were Promised Jetpacks, The National, Death Cab For Cutie, The Twilight Sad
Release date 08.04.2016