Glasgow’s Frightened Rabbit, whose indie rock is perpetually as wounded and nervous as their namesake animal, have been quiet of late, releasing only a very brief EP since 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Now ahead of their fourth full-length, Frightened Rabbit offer a hold-over in the form of the five-track State Hospital EP.
Fans will be pleased to find that the maturation evident between 2008’s critically acclaimed LP, The Midnight Organ Fight, and Mixed Drinks has been retained. Gone is the on-the-nose songwriting that birthed tracks like “Keep Yourself Warm” and the heavy corporal imagery. It’s been replaced with more subtlety, though the guys still appreciate a good metaphor: “Her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs,” on opener “State Hospital”, and on “Boxing Night”, it’s “a heart that is kicking as though it is desperate to be born.” “Home From War” is all metaphor, the narrator comparing himself to a returned combatant as he recovers from a tragedy (the smart money’s on heartbreak, as usual).
The overall mood, though, is markedly more upbeat than previous efforts. “All is not lost,” wails Scott Hutchison at the end of the title track. “Boxing Night”, the most nearly-cheerful track here, opens with a dancing, insistent guitar line and initially good-humored lyrics; the narrator’s floor is “littered with ghosts of bottles past.” This is juxtaposed with pugilistic imagery about a love lost — but the overall effect is one of balance. It’s still pretty dark, but this isn’t weepy music, unlike some previous recordings; it’s well-rounded and welcoming, which is possibly attributed to the band sharing songwriting duties with Hutchison for the first time.
Musically, the characteristic Frightened Rabbit elements are all in place. As usual, Hutchison’s thick Scottish accent flavors complex lyrics overtop of heartfelt guitars. The only surprises come in the second half, starting with the haunting backing vocals that frame a tale of going off-grid on “Off”. “Wedding Gloves”, the closer, is even more startlingly lo-fi, with Hutchison trading vocal duties with Aidan Moffat over a bare backbeat. Even after it opens up into a more traditional guitar-driven format, it’s still as much spoken-word piece as song, and the risk inherent in the starkness speaks volumes for that promised full-length.
Essential Tracks: “State Hospital”, “Boxing Night”