Don't Be Afraid, Conejo

Frightened Rabbit is a band that it is hard for me to think objectively about. Lead singer Scott Hutchison doesn't sing so much as he brogues; almost every song is a slow build that escalates based on an amplified drum-beat and Scott's increasingly voluminous and intense wailing. But I don't care what none of ya'll say, I still love them.

The Midnight Organ Fight, FR's last proper album, was one of the best of the decade; lyrically, I can't place any higher. Frightened Rabbit are one of the only great non-rap acts that write concretely--which is to say, in a period in which most lyrics revolve around a theme in a way that T.S. Eliot's or John Berryman's poetry might--vaguely, elusively, signalled by certain words or phrases, using, I suppose, the Hemingway iceberg-theory-- Frightened Rabbit are writing like Shakespeare's love sonnets--choosing a theme, or a word, and then obsessively exploring every association and metaphorical use of that theme or word. It is realism, and, frankly, it is harder to pull off without being cheesy. Look at this snatch from the most extreme (and perhaps weakest) example, Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms, which would never be confused for Radiohead:

good arms, versus bad arms, will win hands down
they are built to hold and fit 
look how far they go around

you don't need these now that you've found another pair
and the difference astounding, i should expect
leave the rest at arm's length
keep your naked flesh under your favorite dress
and leave the rest at arm's length
when they reach out, don't touch them, don't touch them

i decided this decision some six months ago
so i'll stick to my guns, but from now on it's war
i am armed with the past, and the will, and a brick
i might not want you back, but i want to kill him

I don't love this song, but I respect it. Its craftsmanship (whatever that means) impresses me. That an indie rock band would explore everything that "arms" mean in a relationship--an embrace, an attraction, a metaphor for violence--while also  beautifully sprinkling in common "arm" idioms--"leave the rest at arm's length," I'll stick to my guns," to be "armed"--well, that excites me as a writer. And let me tell you something: all of the songs are this clever and thoughtful.

I do not give "bonus points" to Frightened Rabbit for writing more like Shakespeare than Berryman. In my score book, they don't need it. Midnight Organ Fight is a terrifically sad and painful (literally, full of pain) break-up album. Their new album The Winter of Mixed Drinks isn't as lyrically strong as the last one, but it is musically more cohesive. The band is fuller. They have a sound now. It is a really, really good LP. I hope that those of you with disposable income spend money on it. There is a quote somewhere that says that Frightened Rabbit is the band that makes grown men cry into their pints.

Might want to buy some tissues, too.


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