Tag Archives: Frightened Rabbit

Poll of polls, or, Best of the best-of-2008 album countdowns

A music writer casts his voteConfession: I’ve had some free time lately.

I had to use up the rest of my holiday entitlement before 2008 was out, so I now find myself with nine days of welcome but unproductive home-time in mid-December.

My internet browsing is on the high end of the scale at the busiest of times, so inevitably my modem has been working overtime as I endlessly, inanely surf the web in search of… what?

News, snippets of useless information, Wikipedia facts about minor film actors, the mindnumbing allure of Facebook, the still mystifying appeal of Twitter… and best-of-2008 music polls.

And so I’ve been wondering about year-end polls:

Are they reliable barometers of the very best music created over the past twelve months?

Or…

Are they totally whimsical, subjective, indulgent, show-off lists by various cliques of self-important critics who sneer at mainstream taste?

It’s the latter, of course. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely bloody addictive. I have found myself scouring music websites from the other side of the Atlantic desperately seeking out that essential album that somehow escaped my attention.

So to take the poll theme to a whole new level, here’s my poll of the best and worst polls of the year!

The Best

5. Rolling Stone: Props on TV on the Radio, but otherwise a bit tokenistic along the beardy rawk/hip-hop/legends lines. Turned me on to Blitzen Trapper though.

4. Pitchfork Reader’s Poll: Can’t really argue, other than point out its obvious American folksy prejudice.

3. Times: Surprisingly well-informed for a Murdoch rag.

2. Drowned in Sound: Friendly Fires should never be in the top ten, but good to see my #2 choice M83 top a poll.

1. The Skinny: OK, maybe I have to say this, but we really hit the nail on the head again this year, even if my nomination for Late of the Pier unsurprisingly missed the cut! Year of the Rabbit indeed.

The Worst

3. musicOMH: I don’t care how well-intentioned the poll is if they put Elbow at the top.

2. Last FM: Coldplay. Best album of the year? Really?

1. Q magazine: Kings of Leon. Best album of the year? Really?

And is this really the definitive poll of the year, with the top three comprising artists I’ve barely heard of? Surely not!

(I still have a few more days off. Maybe I’ll compile a poll of the best Poles of the year now…)

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December in singles: Forget the X Factor

The Notwist

Since this is the last singles round-up of 2008 what better time to take stock of my singles of the month from the past year…

January: The Mae Shi – Run To Your Grave

February: Alice and the Majesty – I Could Love You

March: M.I.A – Paper Planes

April: Lightspeed Champion – Galaxy of the Lost

May: Frightened Rabbit – Fast Blood

June: Lykke Li – I’m Good, I’m Gone

July: Attic Lights – Bring You Down

August: Nacional – Telephone

September: Alex Cornish – Until the Traffic Stops

October: Dananananaykroyd – Pink Sabbath

November: Late of the Pier – Bathroom Gurgle

December: Read on…

First to shake yer mother’s finest china this month are Belgian rockers dEUS, flaunting their filmic tastes with The Vanishing of Maria Schneider (1 Dec, ***), which proves that bare-cheeked arthouse cinema, brooding post-rock and Elbow’s Guy Garvey (guest vocals) are easy bedfellows.

Teenage indie hopefuls The Wireless can’t thank their PR for describing them as “barely pubescent”, but in musical terms that’s exactly what Been Here Before (1 Dec, **) is: a bit chirpy and a bit superficial. The same can’t be said for Joan Wasser, who, ‘As Police Woman’, has roped in old pal Rufus Wainwright on her latest, To America (1 Dec, ****), an evocative ballad that treads the lesser-trod path between Vaudeville and 70s rock. Equally individual but utterly different, The Streets’ Mike Skinner comes over all thirty-something (well, just turned 30) and comfortable on Heaven For The Weather (1 Dec, 3stars). As per usual, the lyricism is a cut above the ordinary; as a song it’s a non-event.

Stirling band Jack Butler return from an apparent hiatus this month with Are You a Hustler? (15 Dec, ***). And by the sound of it they’ve been at funky/indie/disco training camp, because this is a catchy rump-shaker, if not a life-changer. James Yorkston, on the other hand, crafts the kind of intelligent, sonorous balladry that might just alter your life should you let it. Tortoise Regrets Hare (8 Dec, ****) comes backed with King Creosote’s fuzzier rendition of the same song. That brings us neatly on to Fence Collective associates Pumajaw, who kickstart the annual Christmas singles round-up with the double A-side Spangler/The Holly King (8 Dec, ***).

More ‘haunting Winter Solstice’ than ‘cosy Crimbo’, Louis Barabbas & the Black Velvet Band also dwell on the dark side of the deep midwinter with Writing My List (Out Now, ***). Imagine, if you will, a Santa-suited Nick Cave stalking your living room with a sack full of rootsy country. Yuletide optimism finally arrives in the form of Frightened Rabbit. It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop (15 Dec, ***) has been given the choir-and-strings treatment since last year’s release, and its exhortation to stop bickering for one day is as cockle-warming as it was last Christmas. Leaving the festively inclined aside, it’s a three-way race for single of the month.

October’s Skinny cover stars Neon Neon bombard us with more elemental electronica and automotive allure on Dream Cars (8 Dec, ****). Don’t be put off by the concept: Gruff Rhys’ pop sensibilities have never been so sharp. Like Rhys, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has learned to love the synth-smothered sound of his youth. An exquisite song from an exquisite album, We Own the Sky (1 Dec, ****) piles on the giddy romanticism, cranks up the Moog and somehow sounds completely fresh in 2008. It was a photo finish, but German stalwarts The Notwist claim single of the month for Boneless (1 Dec, ****). The track itself is about as simplistically flawless as indie-folk gets, and you get a typically dreamy remix from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear for your dosh.

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September in singles: Stopping at England, Iceland, America… and Scotland

Alex Cornish

This month’s instalment of my singles column for The Skinny. Better late than never.

No-one is averse to a bit of sensual seduction. So when newly-formed Londoners Rock City Sixteen send me a 7″ of Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanche (****, 8 Sep) in appropriate black and white design with creative press release, I am easily swayed. The effortlessly cool Velvets-aping song is good too, mind. This month’s brainless-indie-romp comes courtesy of The Zutons. What’s Your Problem (**, 8 Sep) is more of the same sax-led 70s rock, and the trick is wearing thin. As the leaves wither like that band’s career, maybe it’s good that White Lies make no attempt to cheer us up with Death (***, 22 Sep). But their stately, dare-I-say epic indie marks them out as ones to watch. If one band do merit the wearisome ‘epic’ tag, then it’s surely Sigur Rós. Inní mér syngur vitleysingur (****, 8 Sep) translates as “Within me a lunatic sings”. If so, he is a remarkably tuneful lunatic, and heralds a return to form for these enchanting Norsemen.

We’ve had Dinosaur Jr, T-Rex, and now another extinct creature is revived in bandname form, with the arrival of San Franciscan duo The Dodos. Fools (***, 15 Sep) is a likeable little breeze of stick-drumming, chugging guitar and indiscernible muffles. On the subject of band names, Johnny Foreigner can be contracted to JoFo, and there’s more to like: Salt, Peppa and Spinderella (***, 8 Sep) is another hi-NRG rock-out from this talented trio. Never having fallen for his Bright Eyes work, it was unlikely I would perform somersaults of praise for Conor Oberst‘s new solo venture. And while Souled Out!!! (**, 1 Sep) is a decent rock’n’roller, I can barely summon a critical starjump, never mind a somersault.

And now it is with hushed excitement that I present a specially themed and hastily conceived ‘part deux’ of this month’s singles round-up: The Scottish Selection. And what melodious, home-grown treats we have in store…

Those now-ubiquitous favourites Frightened Rabbit offer a double serving of their alt.folk majesty with I Feel Better / The Twist (***, 22 Sep), a double A-side offering a mirror image of their fragile/blustering sound. Broken Records may be swatting the record deals away like flies at the moment, but in the meantime they’ve produced another tantalising glimpse of their talent. Slow Parade (****, Out Now) is a wistful, delicate paean that swells to a stirring, brassy coda. Idlewild singer and one time punk contortionist Roddy Woomble is maturing into a respected folk troubadour and, along with John McCusker and Kris Drever, he has spun a shimmering wee song in Silver And Gold (****, 1 Sep). Although born and bred in London, Alex Cornish still qualifies for this celtic love-in, since he now writes and records from his Edinburgh bedroom. “I’m not breaking new ground,” Cornish sings in Until the Traffic Stops (****, 29 Sep), but who cares about that when he can turn out rousing, honest tunes like this? A deserving single of the month.

And just when you thought Scottish music had been completely ensnared by whisky-blooded folkie types, Mogwai emit one of their atomic waves of distortion to knock us clean off our barstools. Batcat (****, 8 Sep) is a taster of their forthcoming sixth album and reveals the Glaswegians back in earth-shattering form.

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The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, Dirty Summer @ Carnegie Hall, 15 May

Twilight Sad @ Carnegie Hall

Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall isn’t your usual gig venue. It’s a provincial theatre with cushioned seating, suited ushers, pinned-up notices of stage times and a drinks ban in the auditorium. It’s a comfortable yet contrary setting, and local trio Dirty Summer (**) don’t do anything to assuage any tension with their relentless noisecore onslaught. Wilfully unconventional, they are fronted by a standing female drummer who is flanked by a synth/harmonica player and a thrashing bassist/lead screamer. It may be sore on the old tympanic membranes, but it’s nothing if not original.

Frightened Rabbit @ Carnegie Hall“They made us look like Care Bears,” Frightened Rabbit (****) frontman Scott Hutchison quips after his band have ensconced themselves on stage with opener The Modern Leper. True, Selkirk’s finest do seem a tad cuddly after Dirty Summer, and as if to prove it they launch into Old Old Fashioned and selected others from recent album The Midnight Organ Fight. But Frightened Rabbit also make physical, pained, passionate music, and the highlight of this is undoubtedly new single Fast Blood, in which Hutchison’s ragged voice strains to breaking point, the guitar soars, drums pound, and for four minutes it’s utterly spellbinding.

The gauntlet has been thrown down by their good friends, but The Twilight Sad (****) aren’t fazed one bit. Banter ensues when one fan shouts ‘Mon the Twai!’ and singer James Graham indulges in some ‘An Audience with…’ chat about what they’ve been called by less encouraging punters. When they let the music do the talking it’s as raw and heartbreaking as ever. The only drawback is their understandable eagerness to play so much new material, even if it does augur well for a forthcoming EP. Nerves jangle when a tipsy-looking Graham staggers close to the stage-edge, but he’s in total control, channelling everything into And She Would Darken The Memory, breaking two mic stands in the process and reminding us just how fucking great this band is.

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May in singles: new music from New York, Norway and… Dundee

The Gussets

Most agree that the indie-fication of pop has been a change for the better. Except, that is, when bands like The Pigeon Detectives bring their knuckle-dragging post-Libertine shtick to the table with new single This Is An Emergency (**, 5 May). A rush of equally naff computer beeps heralds the debut single of Philadelphian electro-rock-bots Innerpartysystem. Don’t Stop (**, 5 May) is quite good fun, in an emo kind of way. Speaking of emo, I’m not sure if Paramore fit the criteria, but they’ve got that strangely sanitized angst-rock down pat. That’s What You Get (*, 12 May) might be gash, but they sport some splendidly coiffured ‘dos on the cover.

Figure 5, this month’s new-band-from-Glasgow, offer a kind of garage punk that’s anything but forward-thinking with debut single Rock of Gibraltar (**, 26 May). With cited influences like The Jam and Buzzcocks, they probably want to be seen as retro rockers anyway. Another debut single from the other side of the indie continuum: Oxford’s A Silent Film come over all sensitive and slick on Sleeping Pills (***, 12 May), but they sound better than many of their soft-on-the-ear southerner peers. Just.

This column wouldn’t be complete without an Australian singer/songwriter, so step up Mr Kris Morris. Someone Sometimes (**, 5 May) is a downtempo love song that will fit nicely into Terry Wogan’s Radio 2 playlist, if you catch my drift. Cazals are an utterly different proposition, but with Somebody, Somewhere (***, 5 May) they obviously attended the same vague school of song-naming. Nevertheless, this is sharp, punchy indie – and Casio keyboard noises are always a winner. This month’s female singer/songwriter, Norwegian Ida Maria, upstages her male counterpart with Queen of the World (***, 12 May). An ode to getting sozzled that drinks from the same (presumably spiked) pint glass as the unnaturally chipper Jack Peñate.

Why should a band from Dundee pine for the Big Apple, as The Hazy Janes do on New York (***, 19 May)? Is the silvery Tay not inspiration enough? Whatever their home-town gripes, they make indie-pop that’s safe but satisfying. Proving the theory that the point of art school isn’t to paint but to form bands, Edinburgh’s The Gussets arrive through our mailbox with Gortex Erotique (***, out now), a paean to seedy subculture that falls somewhere between The Slits and Le Tigre. Banish all thoughts of Enya before listening to Sail Away (***, 12 May) by The Thirst. This Brixton quintet make quality indie-rock that couldn’t be further removed from the ’80s warbler. Given that this blog is already a signed-up fan it’s no surprise that Frightened Rabbit should take single of the month with Fast Blood (****, 26 May), a beautifully simple track that takes its cue from the ragged-edged panache of The National.

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Interview: Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit after one too many alcopops in the park

OK, so The Midnight Organ Fight has been out for a few days now, and if you’ve managed to buy, steal or borrow a copy you’ll know what a fucking superb album Frightened Rabbit have made: undoubtedly an early contender for album of the year. I wrote a review of it a few weeks ago, then didn’t listen to it for a while, and returned to it again the other night, and its tarnished glory only gets better with each listen.

The following feature was written for this month’s edition of The Skinny. It was conducted through a very faint transatlantic phone line one afternoon in late March, as the band were preparing to fly home to Scotland.
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When The Skinny first spoke to Frightened Rabbit’s Grant Hutchison last year his band were still lurking behind a seemingly intentional cloak of enigma. No surnames given, sparse MySpace, hoodie-clad in their few publicity pictures – it all seemed like some subversive, anti-commercial gameplan. But, on the eve of the release of The Midnight Organ Fight, their second-ish album, Frightened Rabbit have stepped further into the public domain and, though they may not be the cultural terrorists we took them for, the Glasgow-based Borderers are the latest in a line of fine bands to emerge from Scotland’s burgeoning music scene.

And it is indicative of their progress from local oddities to indie favourites that we now find Grant in the New York apartment of the band’s American tour manager, recovering from a night of Dionysian excess with compatriots Sons and Daughters. Over the phone he certainly sounds fatigued, and a little interrogation confirms that they’re all “feeling a bit fragile”.

Frightened Rabbit kicked off their American jaunt at the industry showcase South By South West, and Grant says the reaction has been very good: “They just love anything Scottish over here you know. They all think they have Scottish ancestry. And they love the accent when we go on stage and introduce ourselves. It’s difficult because the album’s not out yet but when we’ve played live everyone’s been enjoying it.”

With The Midnight Organ Fight‘s unpretentious alt.folk styling, Frightened Rabbit were almost ready-made for American success. Whereas first album Sing The Greys was more of a straight-up indie rocker (and basically the re-packaged version of their demo tracks), the follow-up is a finely crafted, musically rich album that was graced by Interpol/The National producer Peter Katis. “He has his own sound that you can hear on the records he’s made,” Grant says. “To be honest he’s the first producer we’ve worked with. Sing The Greys was just us. But having Peter there worked really well for us. We’re happier with the second album because it’s what we knew we could eventually do.”

But it’s not likely to be the music that resides in your memory after a first listen; it’s the battering-ram lyrics delivered by Grant’s brother Scott. The biographical nature of his writing is barely concealed (‘Floating in the Forth’ portrays a clear-minded contemplation of suicide), although he does twist his personal sagas into gloriously vivid metaphor. It’s just his way of dealing with it, Grant says: “He finds that that’s really the only way that he can talk about his feelings. He doesn’t bring these things up with people in general conversation. If he needs to get over something he puts it in a song. There are some songs where it’s about being in love and the next one is ‘fuck you’. It’s in real time almost, the way it flows. Scott writes about exactly how he’s feeling at that moment in time, which is quite strange when you’re his brother in the band and you find out about these things!”

Having taken their music to the Yanks, Frightened Rabbit are now focusing on their homeland. The privileged few who have already seen them in full flow will know that they are one of the most exciting live acts around; now expanded to a quartet, they belie their woolly image with strafing guitar and scatter-bomb drums. Do they consciously try to distance themselves from the record on stage? “Of course we want people to recognise the songs – we’re not gonna come out and start playing them in 7/8 time. But live and record are completely different things. I’ve never bought a ticket for a gig expecting to go and hear the album. I could just put the CD on in the house and play it really loud if I wanted that. You’ve got to put on some kind of a show for people that they’ll remember, so they feel part of something special. The worst thing for me would be for people to say ‘they’re alright’. I’d prefer if they went home and said ‘they were shit, they did this, they did that’. But for people to say ‘they were OK’, that’s the worst.”

With Frightened Rabbit due to make their Triptych debut this month, terms of indifference like ‘alright’ or ‘OK’ are unlikely to be heard post-gig. The band, like the festival itself, are no dwellers of the middle ground.

Frightened Rabbit’s Triptych show takes place at The Tramway, Glasgow on 26 Apr

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Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

The Midnight Organ Fight

****

In medieval times it was widely held that your state of mind was inseparably tied to your state of body. Hence all the talk of apothecaries in Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s Humour Plays. The theory may have been rightly trashed by modern medicine, but that hasn’t stopped it persisting – metaphorically, at least – in the songs of Frightened Rabbit. When singer Scott Hutchison conveys excitement, for instance, “fast blood hurricanes through me”, when he’s defeated and desperate he’s “a modern leper on his last leg”, or, most vividly of all, when a loved one leaves him his “spine collapsed and his eyes rolled back to stare at my starving brain.” Metaphor doesn’t really pack more corporeal punch than that: at times The Midnight Organ Fight comes across like a deformed Picasso figure rendered in words.

Approached from a less literal angle, Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit’s second full-length (following last year’s Sing The Greys) is a quintessential break-up album. That’s not to say it’s mostly downbeat – as toe-tappers like Old Old Fashioned testify – but there are at least four prominent songs that deal with the post-mortem episode of love. I Feel Better is a classic get-over-you number, Good Arms vs Bad Arms is less pacifistic – “I might not want you back but I want to kill him” – while Floating In The Forth flirts with the notion of oblivion after a painful parting, before concluding: “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” But, in its hazy, tender, Dylan-esque way, Poke is the most affecting and arguably the finest song on the album.

Before they were a quartet, Frightened Rabbit was the nom-de-plume of singer/songwriter Scott, which may explain why words largely take a precedence over sounds in their oevre. There’s a stubborn yet nuanced personality lurking in all the songs, whether it’s defending its atheism and confronting death in Head Rolls Off or scrutinizing the value of the one-night stand in Keep Yourself Warm: “You won’t find love in a hole / It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.”

With such lyrical chutzpah, the music was never going to matter as much as it does for a group like label mates the Twilight Sad. In Frightened Rabbit’s case it’s accompaniment for accompaniment’s sake: an uncomplicated, pretension-free alt.folk canvas of scuzzy guitars, organ swells and brush-stick drums. Songs build patiently but never topple over into unrestrained noise or feedback. Sometimes, though, you find yourself yearning for more of the percussive energy that drove tracks like Be Less Rude and The Greys on their debut LP.

With not one but two excellent albums released within a year, though, and a hard-won reputation for their impassioned live displays, Frightened Rabbit are ready to become much more than a quirky obscurity: The Midnight Organ Fight will be the catalyst for a wider appreciation of yet another great Scottish band. It’s an album that invokes a range of emotions but generally leaves you exhilarated; enough, in Frightened Rabbit’s unique idiom, to make the fast blood hurricane through you.

The Midnight Organ Fight is out on 14 Apr via FatCat.

Frightened Rabbit play King Tut’s, Glasgow on 12 Apr, Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on 13 Apr and The Green Room Venue, Edinburgh on 24 Apr

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