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Frightened Rabbit

+ {Owl John}

Successful “indie-rock” bands from the borders area of Scotland come along very rarely; one can think of only 90s combo, DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS (from nearby Galashiels), that made the grade – so to speak. Initially hailing from Selkirk, a good drive or lengthy bus journey from civilization (or as one has come to know it: Edinburgh), it was indeed inevitable that FRIGHTENED RABBIT would step out from the headlights and into the bright lights of er… Glasgow. A consistent CV that has heralded a string of well-received sets, Scotland’s scary furry animals have even enjoyed a modicum of consummation in the often unyielding American market.
The brogue tongue of singer Scott Hutchison (also rhythm guitar), his brother Grant (drums) and good buddy Billy Kennedy (lead guitar, bass and keyboards), took the plunge in 2004, encouraged by all and sundry to up sticks to Scotland’s biggest city, where gigs were a-plenty for promising acts. Enjoying a healthy response from their growing legion of followers, the trio emerged from Glasgow’s Diving Bell studios (where they’d worked alongside producer Marcus Mackay) for angular, post-punk debut set, SING THE GREYS (2006) {*7}. As indie albums go, it was an encouraging beginning for the sweeping and intense act, whose majestic songs such as `Music Now’ (very ARCADE FIRE), `The Greys’, `Be Less Rude’ and `Square 9’ were the pick of the bunch. A band hard to pigeonhole into one particular category, their sound and drive was picked up by the people at Universal, who recommended the group to top indie specialists Fat Cat. Bolstered by a reputation-enhancing spot at the cultural SXSW fest in Austin, Texas, producer Peter Katis was enlisted to give a leg-up to the band’s sophomore set, THE MIDNIGHT ORGAN FIGHT (2008) {*8}. Possessing a venomous gobbet of frank and intimate dirges, singer-songwriter Scott bleated the bittersweet by way of canny cuts like `The Modern Leper’, `I Feel Better’, `Fast Blood’ and `Head Rolls Off’ – the latter triumvirate, cherry-picked as singles.
Duly adding auxiliary fourth member Andy Monaghan to the line-up, concert set LIVER! LUNG! FR! / QUIETLY NOW (2008) {*6} – recorded live at The Captain’s Nest, Glasgow, 30th July 2008 – was a bit premature for a band only in existence a few years, while a festive tongue-in-cheek platter, `It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’, harked back to the days when it was almost obligatory, and indeed, glam, to furnish fans with such a ditty.
FRIGHTENED RABBIT then chose to add yet another multi-instrumentalist to the fore, in Gordon Skene, a member also of MOTH & THE MIRROR. Expanding on the group’s searching sounds and taking a leaf from their liberated Caledonian cousins, The TWILIGHT SAD, WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS and CAMERA OBSCURA, THE WINTER OF MIXED DRINKS (2010) {*7} proved to be their breakthrough Top 100 set in both Britain and America. Surging toward a grandiose collision of sounds, Fat Cat pulled out all the stops by releasing no less than four singles: `Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, `Nothing Like You’, `Living In Colour’ and `The Loneliness And The Scream’.
As sure as eggs is eggs, the ‘Rabbit(s) signed a lucrative deal at Atlantic Records, more or less on the strength of their appearance on US TV show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. 2013’s LEO ABRAHAMS-produced fourth set, PEDESTRIAN VERSE {*8} gate-crashed the Top 10, while in America sales had seen them gain Top 75 status. With a bruised and downtrodden Scott in need of sucker for his transient “Trainspotting” toons, the man’s bare-knuckled lyrics served up kitchen-sink dramas such as that unearthed on `State Hospital’, `Late March, Death March’, `Backyard Skulls’ and `Holy’.
Scott Hutchison’s eponymous moonlighting project OWL JOHN (2014) {*7} represented fresh ideas that took the creative frontman beyond his perimeters and on to the Isle of Mull and America’s West Coast. Augmented by fellow “bunnyman” Monaghan and OLYMPIC SWIMMERS’ Simon Liddell on co-production (Peter Kelly played drums), a softer, autumnal aspect showed up in songs such as `Los Angeles, Be Kind’, `Ten Tons Of Silence’ and `A Good Reason To Grow Up’, while the grimy and detached `Hate Music’ almost echoed a certain IAN McCULLOCH.
Scotland’s favourite gloom-indie band FRIGHTENED RABBIT came out of the headlights and back into the hearts and minds of their loyal fanbase with the release of fifth set, PAINTING OF A PANIC ATTACK (2016) {*8}. Having swapped the ill-matched Gordon Skene for OWL JOHN associate guitarist Simon Liddell (a few years back), New York-based Hutchison and crew could concentrate on circulating their juxtapositional jarring with The NATIONAL’s Aaron Dessner at the decks. At times uplifting from a no-hoper prospective, the Top 20 recording was complete with desolate and dislocated dirges such as `An Otherwise Disappointing Life’, `Get Out’, `I Wish I Was Sober’, `Still Want To Be Here’, `Break’ and opener `Death Dream’.
Fast-forward two years, the sudden disappearance of singer Scott Hutchison in the early hours of 9th May 2018 caused consternation for family, friends and fans. And with the finding of a body in the South Queensferry area a few days later, fears were confounded when Scottish police and news reports revealed it was indeed the body of Scott. Tragic news as he was only 36.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2013-May2018

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