By Jackson Howard, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 5, 2013
Before Mumford & Sons and their British folkiness captured the hearts of pseudo-hipster Americans, Frightened Rabbit had already amassed a large catalogue of quality Scottish folk music that captivated the Pitchfork crowd and found success overseas. Nonetheless, though the band was most likely content with its obscurity in the United States, there was a natural desire (at a time when pop-folk songs like The Lumineers’s “Ho Hey” is a Top-20 hit) to make a push at the American audience. The band signed with Atlantic Records, and, voilà, Pedestrian Verse emerged.
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Fans, breathe easy. Record-label change aside, the band sounds exactly the same. And that’s a wonderful thing. Pedestrian Verse is full of Frightened Rabbit’s trademark Scottish folk music. Lead vocalist Scott Hutchison sounds as confident and depressed as ever, and while that may seem like an odd combination, Frightened Rabbit is one of the few bands for which that description actually makes sense.
Pedestrian Verse overflows with songs about death and depression, yet Hutchison’s voice and attitude are more along the lines of “who cares” than “woe is me.” Take “Dead Now,” where Hutchison sings nonchalantly about his somewhat suicidal thoughts. “If we can’t bring an exorcist / I’ll settle for one of your stiffest drinks,” he muses as the band holds down a locked-in, bass-driven groove.
Hutchison takes the self-loathing even farther on “Nitrous Gas,” a song that begins as one of the most miserable songs written in recent memory. “I’m dying to tell you that I’m dying here / Throw up the sickly joy and the swell of the sweet self-loathing,” Hutchison sings, his voice somehow carrying little sadness. Then comes the ending. “And if happiness won’t come to me … ” he continues, “You can keep all of your oxygen / hand me the nitrous gas.” The song suddenly switches from a depressive anthem to a black comedy, the exact contradiction that makes the band so distinct.
The lyrics on Pedestrian Verse, as on all the band’s albums, are tremendously deep and eloquent. Hutchison’s songs dazzle in their wordiness — at times a bit too much so — but read out loud without music they sound truly incredible.
On “December’s Traditions,” Hutchison reminisces, “December’s traditions suck the last of summer from our cheeks / draws the curtains / strips the trees.” Building guitars and howling backing vocals open the door into Hutchison’s mind, making the song an especially powerful one.
“The Woodpile,” maybe the best song on the record, serves as the perfect example of the band’s ability to walk the ever-so-thin line between introspection and sappiness, a boundary crossed way too often in pop music. Over beating drums and heavy guitars, Hutchison unleashes one of Frightened Rabbit’s best choruses, pleading for someone to rescue him from his burning loneliness.
There are points in the album where the band’s folky guitar-and-drum sound feels monotonous — the songs where little splashes of piano heard feel beyond refreshing. But don’t blame the receptiveness on the band; look to the lyrics, which definitely take the attention away from the actual music. This is far from a bad thing — in fact, it makes his lyricism all the more impressive — but it detracts from a few songs, like “Holy” and “The Oil Slick,” which are more lyrical showcases than complete tracks.
“There’s something wrong with me,” Hutchison groans on “Dead Now” — as if it wasn’t clear already — but while he does sound genuinely sad, he seems just as happy saying it. Pedestrian Verse is a wonderful compilation of Scottish folk-rock, dark humor and clever storytelling that deserves to be mentioned with the top albums of this new year. Just don’t sing it in front of your parents, or they might think something’s wrong with you, too.