Review: Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack (2016)

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Today we welcome our newest contributor to Mezzic, James Taylor! James is a former owner of a live music venue in Austin, Texas, and he currently splits his time between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a tour bus. Welcome to Mezzic, James!

On the occasion of your 5th full length release, critics are apt to throw around the qualifier “veteran” when describing your band. With Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit earn that status, showing an unprecedented maturity towards their craft. Hutchison and his hands up the proverbial ante, bringing in The National’s Aaron Dessner to produce with a distinctive and golden touch and writing their catchiest, most radio-ready tunes to date. After five albums of painful melancholia and laughable bad luck, Scott Hutchison and his band dig their toes into the sands of sunny California and aim for chart status.

Dessner’s fingerprints are found on lush arrangements of French horns, cellos, and other new instrumentations equal parts orchestral and pre-programmed MIDI. Dessner draws on Hutchison’s penchant for composed tension and thickens the plot.

“Death Dreams,” is a haunting dirge, a morose and boggy march Frightened Rabbits fans will be familiar with, with Dessner making his presence known from the jump. A horn rich conclusion clues listeners to new directions ahead. “You died in your sleep last night,” the band chants behind it’s frontman. Reborn and renewed by California sun and a new love, Hutchison here sounds, above all, refreshed. The soaked in piss and spilt whiskey protagonist of previous Rabbit albums is washed clean, surprisingly more mature, and wanting for more of the good life.

On “I Wish I Was Sober,” Hutchison writes with a maturity that the pub penned scribblings of an early twenty something couldn’t find.  “I can’t un-sink the things I’ve sunk,” tells Midnight Organ Fight fans, “Still not giving up, though I wish that I was sober.”

Frightened Rabbit’s let go of charming self-destruction on “Get Out” and “Woke Up Hurting,” fully embracing the Indie Summer Soundtrack status with open arms. Simple, inarguably delightful, and too the point, the latter finds Hutchison and his bandmates settling comfortably into early-evening Festival slot status, the band your friend’s Cool Mom wants to see at Austin City Limits Festival. Pitchfork called this a “repositioning” and it’s hard not to agree. “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” and “Still Want To Be Here” are some of the band’s best songs yet. “I have a long list of tepid disappointments and you should burn that too,” the reborn Hutchison sings.

“Little Drum,” “Lump Street,” and “Die Like a Rich Boy” — throughout Panic it’s clear a fresh set of ears and eyes, relaxed by the California sun, and the highly respected input of Dessner in the studio has led to a more thoughtful approach to songwriting. Hutchison and his band clearly want to be lead in new directions. Dessner is hardly pulling an unwilling band and as such the results feel natural. Dessner stitches up Hutchison’s loveable loser pathos. The tattered and torn, Bukowski-at-the-bar binge comes to end. Where previous efforts would have found Frightened Rabbit taking off, Panic Attack remains grounded.

Together, Frightened Rabbit and Dessner confidently march over that minor hump that separates bands that load themselves into mid size venues from those that headline 2000-cap rooms, performing multiple nights at seated theaters and standing room only Fall festivals. With Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit display enough polish and catchiness to force themselves into regular AAA airplay — taking similar leaps that bands like Decemberists, The National, and Death Cab For Cutie did an album or two ago.

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