What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?
Well, we can either discuss the richness of Leporidae in the history of art (from Bugs and Of Mice and Men to Binky and Lord of the Rings) or we can take a different tack altogether and extrapolate the lo-fi descendents of the Velvet Underground. Taking either branch will leave you with Scotland’s latest export, Frightened Rabbit, a three-piece with more buzz than Neil Young’s Arc. Frightened Rabbit is made up of a pair of brothers, Scott and Grant, (whose last name is Hutchison, but usually prefer to go surnameless) and guitarist Billy Kennedy. Their debut album, Sing the Greys was originally released in June of 2006 by Universal in a much more lo-fi form, but is now re-released by FatCat and cleaned up by long-time remasterer Alan Douches. It doesn’t matter which version you pick up, as long as you get to experience the dynamic and electric sound of this Glasgow treasure.
Like the Twilight Sad’s James Graham, the first thing you notice about the vocals of the Hutchisons is a thick brogue. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t care how many people swoon over French, Italian, Spanish or even Southern accents, give me a good Scottish brogue anyday and I melt like butter. If I could just get an audiobook of Kelly McDonald reading the dictionary, I’d be a happy man. But back to Frightened Rabbit, the music that this trio conjures is akin to the aforementioned descendents of the Velvet Underground, specifically the bands associated with New Zealand’s Flying Nun label in the ’80s, especially the Clean. The opening track, “The Greys,” itself a twist on the idea of `singing the blues,’ recollects Ian McCulloch’s impassioned early warblings in his own Liverpuddlian accent. Maybe the likeness has more to do with the lupine aspects of their names. I can see it now, a “Can I pet them, George?” tour with Echo & the Bunnymen, Frightened Rabbit, Gram Rabbit, Rabbit in the Moon, Bunny Wailer and maybe even Eddie Rabbitt on a side stage.
The one word that I feel truly captures the music of Frightened Rabbit, despite its roots in punk, its aggressive nature and lo-fi foundation, is charming. There is just something altogether adorable about the sheer innocence of this band’s style. They somehow reach back in the recent past to conglomerate melodious pop with the early naïveté of punk, loud and charged, but delightfully accessible. Although the Hutchisons might not be the most technically adept singers in the world, their harmonies still bring a smile to the face with sheer charisma. This is especially evident in the second track, a song about the empowerment of being creative, “Music Now,” as well as the almost instrumental tracks on the record, “The First Incident” and the subsequently aptly named, “The Second Incident,” not to mention “The Final Incident.” Those particular tracks, as well as “Yawns,” are like stripped down Sigur Rós epic tracks, albeit without the dizzying falsetto. Seriously, listen to “Yawns” and try not to imagine soaring strings and a high-pitched voice.
“Be Less Rude” is a different example of a Frightened Rabbit tune. Rather than a VU lo-fi feel or a soaring soundscape, it goes for the power pop jugular, sounding like what I was hoping Snow Patrol’s last album should have resembled. It’s driving, melodic and has cojones, which is exactly what Eyes Open was lacking. “Go Go Girls” simply rocks, with muscular drums and overlapping guitars that make this band seem much larger than a simple trio. “Behave!” begins like a pleasant folk tune, a la Nick Drake, and then subverts that atmosphere with rocking Peter Hook-esque rock basslines. The album, unlike most pop records in the past, though a recurring theme this year, doesn’t let up in the later stages with “Square 9” being one of the true astounding highlights covering all kinds of the aforementioned territory in one fell swoop. The bonus track, a live version of opener, “The Greys,” is truly impressive, making the comparison to Echo and the Bunnymen even more appropriate.
Before this year’s SXSW festival, Frightened Rabbit weren’t very well known outside of their native Scotland. But playing just before likeminded countrymen, the Twilight Sad, and just before Rob Crow (which possibly set up their playing with Pinback this fall) brought them all the attention they needed for their record launch. Oddly and ironically enough, at another bar just down Red River Road in Austin, Flying Nun Records were beginning their own showcase just after Rabbit began. Frightened Rabbit will undoubtedly receive even more attention as Sing the Greys makes the circuit of indie music fans, paving the way for their follow-up album, due to be released in the Spring of 2008, produced by Peter Katis, the man behind albums by The National, Interpol, Robbers on High Street and the Twilight Sad. And although that album might end up to be more polished than a Michael Bay movie (don’t even get me started on Transformers), you’ll have to go back and experience the true charming genius of Sing the Greys.