A hauntingly beautiful record. Painting of a Panic Attack moves the band in a brilliantly fresh direction: one that is undoubtedly dark, melancholic and, as a somewhat strange result, gorgeously enticing.
Three years have passed since Scottish Indie outfit Frightened Rabbit released their critically acclaimed major label debut, Pedestrian Verse. Since then a lot has happened: frontman Scott Hutchinson has switched his homeland for the sun of Los Angeles and released a strong solo album under the Owl John moniker. Despite these changes, Painting of a Panic Attack – the bands fifth studio album – thankfully finds the group back at their familiar thematic stomping-ground: heartache, pain and existential longing.
The album opens delicately with ‘Death Dream’: an organ-led number which comes across in a strange manner, presenting itself as weirdly evocative yet also funereal. Setting the tone of the album instantly, its sparse production still manages to present the melancholy and raw nature the band are known for with Hutchinson’s erudite, sombre lyrics presenting a believable portrayal of vulnerability. Matched with slow-burning instrumentation, the song builds into an elegant spectacle, ending as a perfect precursor to the album’s lead single ‘Get Out’.
It is here, along with ‘Woke up Hurting’, ‘An Otherwise Disappointing Life’ and ‘Break’, we find the band at their comfortable, punchy selves. “Less guitar driven” as vocalist Scott Hutchinson rightly acknowledges, the electronic beat of ‘Get Out’ pumps like an excited heartbeat and presents a snapshot of the biggest change found on this record: electronic flourishes accompanying the rock style, providing a newfound departure for the band. However, there is still a sense of familiarity through Hutchinson’s desperate lyrics: “Get out of my heart, she won’t, she won’t,” Hutchinson sings during the explosive, yet brutally relatable chorus in which the simplicity counteracts the poetry woven throughout the record: a chink in the armour allowing the listen to take a clear look at the some of the wounds driving the record.
The album flows in a similar sonic landscape: jumping from catchy, fast paced songs such as ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ and softer, more gentile numbers like ‘Still Want To Be Here’. The second half of the album definitely falls into the latter with ‘400 Bones’ easily being one of the bands most beautiful, clear-cut love songs to date. Whilst calling a partner “200 perfect bones” doesn’t seem the most romantic gesture, there is an undeniable splendour battling the, at times, gloomy nature of the song.
This is essentially the perfect way to view the record: making something beautiful from something painful with the album’s conclusion, ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’, very much attesting to this notion. A sorrowful, acoustic number driven by some of the band’s most barbed lyrics ever, there is a stark and somewhat pastoral arrangement with finite piano notes lingering beneath the surface. The lyrical content – delivered in Hutchinson’s thick Scottish accent – contradicts the beautiful, simplistic production but this is part of the brilliance: a dazzling example of undeniable splendour shaking hands with despair.
Arguably, this is what the band were aiming for and part of the success in creating this ‘beautiful gloom’ is the addition of The National’s Aaron Dessner as producer. Tying the songs together with a delicate beauty, Dessner’s production leans more towards stripped down arrangements, reminiscent of his own band: something which provides the album with a claustrophobic edge. Admittedly, this is where listeners may eventually decide upon the success of the album. Fans of past records like 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight might feel the band lack their engaging, panicked urgency as a result and Painting of a Panic Attack’s subdued, humbled soundscape does unfortunately sacrifice some of the band’s soaring punch and power. However, within the context of the songs, most will find this new, haunting production a perfect fit for the record.
Lonely, dark and troubled, Painting of a Panic Attack takes the band to its darkest place yet. As a result, it is fair to say that this is Frightened Rabbit’s most mature record to date. Without taking away from that fact these still stand as shimmering pop songs, the melancholic, darkened presentation adds a sense of pathos, depth and emotional sophistication: instead of throwaway pop songs to skip through on an iPod shuffle, these are a dozen songs to be listened to from start to finish; a complete, mature work of art that not only deserves, but demands repeated listens.
Painting of a Panic Attack is out now via Atlantic Records.