Tag Archive: “Frightened Rabbit”

Hey folks, it’s Luke LaBenne here, writer and host of Ghettoblaster’s Best Song Ever podcast. 2016 was a crazy year, full of surprises, so many musical icons released albums and some of them served as farewells. We saw so many amazing albums from veteran artists and some newcomers who grabbed our attention and quickly became beloved favorites. There were so many great albums that I had the honor of listening to and writing about this year thanks to Ghettoblaster. Some of them really stood out so here they are, my Top 20 Albums of 2016.



20. Okkervil River – Away

The ghost album from the band that no longer exists. After the breakup of Okkervil River, frontman Will Sheff went through a period of uncertainty in which his Grandfather and personal hero passed away. Sheff teamed up with jazz musicians, including yMusic’s C.J. Camarieri who used his grandfather’s old trumpet, fusing jazz with their existing folk rock sound. This album that almost didn’t happen turned out to be a warm and beautiful expression with the emotional weight we’ve come to expect from the rock veteran.

Watch: Okkervil River –  Okkervil River R.I.P






19. Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland

Former GASHCAT frontman Kyle Craft made his SubPop debut with the right amount of retro and modern influences, from Velvet Underground to Neutral Milk Hotel. Kyle tells vivid, sprawling tales of love and loss akin to Bob Dylan, with his powerful, one of a kind voice and big, Springsteen-esque instrumentals. Whether he’s serenading a lady or lamenting his friend who committed suicide, these songs feel very personal and lived-in, with Kyle’s 27 years of life informing each tune.

Listen: Kyle Craft – Pentecost







18. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

I remember a week where I felt like no albums had come out that grabbed my attention and then later in the week I heard this album and was blown away. British singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka combines the building jams of Pink Floyd, with the vocal force and social relevance of Marvin Gaye. Joining soul, folk, and rock to explore the meaning of love & hate, and express the triumphs and trials of a “black man in a white world.” Much of this album is featured in the Netflix’s The Get Down giving a fitting canvas for Michael’s epic, emotional, and uplifting music.

Watch: Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World






17. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

Last year, Conor Oberst released an album and did a tour with his punk band Desaparecidos. Afterwards, he was exhausted and ill, so he returned to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to recover. While there, inspiration struck and he wrote a recorded an album in 48 hours. We see a different Conor then we’re used to, stripped down to just guitar or piano with an occasional harmonica solo. Lyrically, these songs are thick with cultural and literary references that drive home the Americana vibe of this album as Conor looks back over his life and career and considers what lies ahead. What began as a sort of pit stop to regroup turned into some of his most personal and powerful work yet.

Watch: Conor Oberst – A Little Uncanny





16. Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack

Scotish indie-rock veterans Frightened Rabbit really came into their own with their 2012 album Pedestrian Verse, completing the gradual transition from rougher folkier sound to a more polished indie-rock sound. The National’s Aaron Dessner helped them perfect that sound on this album. Resembling The National and the sound Dessner helped Mumford and Sons achieve last year, these songs are much brighter and catchier than you would assume based on the cover art and title. Lyrically, this album deals with death, addiction, and depression though it has it’s fair share of self-deprecation hope permeates each track. Under the tutelage of Dessner, these guys join the ranks of indie-rock greats and continue to grow with each new album.

Watch: Frightened Rabbit – I Wish I Was Sober




a3501043119_1015. Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone

Jordan Lee has made music under the name Mutual Benefit since 2009, but this year he reached new heights with Skip A Sinking Stone. While touring, Lee contemplated life and love during long car trips, putting his questions and realizations into words gives this album it’s lyrical power. Backing up his insightful lyrics are grand compositions akin to Sufjan Stevens, that can shift quickly into bare, intimate folk. This album is grand yet isolated, using nostalgia as a means to move forward.

Watch: Mutual Benefit – Not For Nothing






14. Vince Staples – Prima Donna

Last year, Vince Staples established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of Hip Hop with his album Summertime ’06. This year, Vince let us know just how fame was treating him with a mini-album full of 7 heavy-hitting songs about his disillusionment with fame, but his strength and relevance despite it, effortlessly weaving social topics into his personal narrative. Not only is Vince at the top of his game lyrically (with more lyrics that can make Christian moms cry), but he has some production help from the great James Blake, appearances by A$AP Rock and Kilo Kish, and heavy nods to OutKast, even with a sample of Andre’s verse from ATLiens. Every song on this album is fantastic and it comes with a short film to compliment each track.

Watch: Vince Staples – Prima Donna





13. Lambchop – FLOTUS

For Love Often Turns Us Still. The veteran folk-rock band turned a page with their latest album, ditching their folk sound for electronic elements and airy, funky grooves. Kurt Wagner has experimented with electronics in the past, but on FLOTUS he seamlessly rolls them in with traditional instruments, primarily bass and piano, to make a smooth, hazy, and beautiful album. Ending, with an 18-minute “love” song. This album can pull at your heart strings just by the mood and feeling the music creates.

Watch: Lambchop – NIV






12. El Perro Del Mar – KoKoro

After 8 months of “maternity leave” indie-pop artist Sarah Assbring returned with her 5th album as El Perro Del Mar. After visiting a museum with eastern instruments and listening to japanese, chinese, thai, and indian pop Assbring added this eastern influence into her existing style of melancholy pop. This new style emerges on each song always in a new and interesting way. Something about motherhood enabled Assbring to tap into primal truths of humanity make this album very deep and insightful.

Watch: El Perro Del Mar – Breadandbutter






11. Beyonce – Lemonade 

Lemonade was more than an album. It was a film, it was couples therapy, and it was a cultural phenomenon. Never before had a superstar given such an intimate look at their lives on such a large scale. Not only did Jay-Z’s infidelity bring out some of Beyonce’s most powerful work exploring the nature of love, blackness, and womanhood, but she is also joined by an all-star cast of collaborators like Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, and the aforementioned James Blake. Queen B is at the height of her power and vulnerability making this album dynamic and addictive.

Watch: Beyonce – Sorry






10. Red Pill – Instinctive Drowning

If you’ve read my posts or listened to my podcast then it’s no surprise that Detroit rapper Red Pill ended up this high on my list. Red Pill was one of my greatest discoveries this year and  just in time for him to drop his innovative second album for Mello Music Group. With the help of producer Ill-Poetic, he creates an eclectic journey through the life and mind of Chris Orrick a.k.a. Red Pill. Shedding the old school style of dusty samples and venturing into more expansive and experimental instrumentals, so much ground is covered on this album. Whether it’s grand speculation about the universe or small insights into his personal life, we hear a deep thinker whose thoughts and intentions go deeper than his actions. This record is a weighty and philosophical listen with stunning instrumentals and dynamic production, reflecting the complex contradictions in all of us.

Watch: Red Pill – Instinctive Drowning




9. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

I was anxiously awaiting a rap album from Childish Gambino but he delivered was even better. Venturing into funk and not spitting a single rhyme on the album, Donald Glover has defied our expectations of what he’s capable of. With the success of his FX series Atlanta we can see Glover really coming into his own as an artist. This album feels completely genuine and as a result is his best record to date. With sprawling guitar solos, extensive jams, and call and response vocals reminiscent of old school funk. Glover tackles social issues in a way we haven’t seen him do before, he calls it, “a shared vibration for human progress.”  No album released this year sounds remotely like this one.

Listen: Childish Gambino – Me and Your Mama





8. Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust

Sonderlust is the idea that each random passerby has a life as rich and complex as your own. That elusive concept it what K. Ishibashi attempted to capture on his third album. This album had a rocky start, with K. being underwhelmed by the songs he was writing. Meanwhile, family problems occurred and he threw himself into the music. The result is an examination of love, an album that plays like a movie. Produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and featuring a full backing band, string quartet, and some contributions from of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes. This album is the grandest instrumentation and most experimentation that we’ve seen from Ishibashi yet. I recently got the vinyl and put it on and it’s impossible to turn off, each song is so engaging and plays into the next song perfectly.

Watch: Kishi Bashi – Hey, Big Star




weezer_white_album7. Weezer – Weezer (White Album)

2014 saw the comeback of Weezer, one of the greatest rock bands who seemed to have lost their way a bit. Fans of Weezer’s early work had shut out their pop punk sound when it went in strange directions while still permeating the mainstream. Everything Will Be Alright in the end won back many Weezer fans (including myself) and they quickly followed it up with the fourth installment of their self-titled color albums with what will forever be called The White Album. This is the greatest summer album you could ask for, channeling The Beach Boys with nautical themed rock songs as warm as the California sun. Every song is beautiful while being relentlessly catchy and fun. They may have won back their fans in 2014 but in 2016 they’ve assured us that they won’t be straying from our favor any time soon.

Watch: Weezer – LA Girlz




life-of-pablo6. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Where does the art end and the artist begin? Can you separate the two? Kanye makes us ask this question all the time. How can I adore someone’s music but disagree with most of their actions in their life? Everybody has to draw their own line, all I know is that ever since 2004 when I listen to Kanye’s music I’m blown away. Though his styles have changed and there’s so much controversy surrounding him constantly, he has a true talent for music. There are moments of shocking vulnerability on this album as well as your typical Kanye ego and braggadocios attitude. The collaborators here are insane from Chance to Frank Ocean, Rihanna to Kid Cudi; so many amazing artist line up to work with Kanye despite all his issues and there is a reason for that. I don’t let the news or blogs or reality shows or even the artist’s actions shape my opinion, I let the music speak for itself.

Listen: Kanye West – Ultralight Beam



09e256ce885fe6b3cf181239c3b3231c-1000x1000x15. A Tribe Called Quest – We got if from here… Thank you 4 your service

The legendary hip-hop group’s first album in 18 years was everything you would hope. Including the late Phife Dawg’s final verses, and an all-star list of contributors including Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, Andre 3000, Anderson Paak, and Elton John. Q-Tip masterfully comments on all the major political and social topics over beats that feel completely current while evoking the groups earlier work. From start to finish this album has you hooked, the music is so engaging while leaving room for some experimentation and the lyrics just speak so perfectly to the emotions many people are feeling. Dave Chappelle hosted SNL with ATCQ as the musical guest and he said it’s always scary to make a comeback so it’s nice to know you’re not doing it alone. This is one of the greatest comeback records you could ask for, while adding to the legacy of one of hip-hop’s greatest contributors.

Watch: A Tribe Called Quest – We The People…



a2344894986_104. AJJ – The Bible 2

Formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad the Arizona folk-punk band has been making music since the mid 2000s. Their sound was mostly acoustic with folk instruments like guitar, banjo, and standup bass and Sean Bonnet’s wild, cracking voice and unpredictable lyrics. On 2014’s Christmas Island they unveiled a new sound, with the help of one of my favorite rock producers John Congleton. On The Bible 2 we see Bonnet’s lyrics more refined, and the folk punk style perfected. This is the most dynamic album the band has delivered. Congleton likes music that makes him feel a range of emotions, and helps bring out the individual personalities of each song. Weather it’s crunchy punk tracks like “Cody’s Theme” and “My Brain Is a Human Body,” resembling Neutral Milk Hotel, or intimate ballads like “Junkie Church” and the song that brings the album’s core mantra, “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread.” For those of us who feel uncertain in our skin sometimes, these weirdo anthems have relatable lyrics that hit hard. Though they’ve been around for years this album quickly made them one of my new indie favorites.

Watch: AJJ – Goodbye, Oh Goodbye



c5e308973. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Forget Blonde. Forget Pablo. Forget Lemonade. Coloring Book was my most anticipated album of the year (and then it was exclusively on Apple Music FML). With 2014’s Acidrap I fell in love with the music of Chance Bennett. I began to respect him a lot after I watched him get a beer bottle thrown at him and tell the person who threw it that he loved them (he did walk off stage after someone threw a second bottle but can you blame him?). After the release of Angels, the birth of his daughter, and his phenomenal appearance on Kanye’s Ultralight Beam it was clear that Chance is growing and maturing. On this album we see Chance on top on the world, yet he remains grounded. In a world where mainstream hip-hop keeps getting darker with melodies drained, Chance injects warmth and brightness into the genre. Tapping into nostalgia in a more productive way than Donald Trump. This album has everything, ballsy hip-hop swagger, brooding trap, and glorious gospel. Not to mention this album redefined what independent mixtapes are capable of accomplishing. Chance has ascended to super stardom with Nike and Kit-Kat commercials, and features on numerous albums including The Hamilton Mixtape. It’s hard not to be a stereotypical hipster and say I’ve loved Chance for years and condemn the bandwagon jumpers, but instead i’ll just say it’s about damn time.

Watch: Chance The Rapper – No Problem



a1767464498_102. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

The former frontman of The Weakerthans trades out his rocking for restraint and the result is one of the most beautiful, powerful folk albums of the 21st century. Whether he’s speaking about internet trolls, a departed loved one, or a rehab center he so perfectly captures the humanity in any situation. John is a master of melody so you have some incredible lyrics paired with the most infectious melodies. The lyrics walk the line of being cryptic enough that you don’t understand his specific references, but specific enough that you grasp the mood and the story being told. The albums title refers to a crop that endures the winter and rises in the spring and this metaphor extends to many of the stories on this album. He is great at capturing low points and the clarity that follows. This album just hits you in the heart with every new song, they’re masterfully performed and produced emotional wrecking balls, delivered with a warm and comforting voice.

Watch: John K. Samson – Postdoc Blues



heavn_front-1000x10001. Jamila Woods – HEAVN

This album was off of my radar because it wasn’t on Spotify, and it is responsible for 90% of my Soundcloud visits this year. This album did for me what Solange’s Seat At The Table did for many others, perfectly put into words and music the life and struggles of black females. It shows how music can be the most powerful tool to connect with someone who’s life is different than yours, while highlighting the shared aspects of humanity that connect us all. Whether she’s singing a love song, lamenting her departed grandfather, or sounding a battle hymn, she does it with such a warm and steady voice. The music is just so beautiful with production by the likes of Saba and Kweku Collins, combining jazz, folk, and r&b. Much like her Chicago buddies Noname and Chance (who both appear on the album) she taps into the nostalgia of 90’s kids, altering playground rhymes and the Mr. Rogers theme. This album is a smooth and tender tale of love, family, pain, power and resilience.

Watch: Jamila Woods – Blk Girl Soldier



The One About the Best of 2016

Brian and Luke take you on a journey through some of their favorite albums of 2016.   Also, be sure to check out their individual top 20 albums of the year list on the Ghettoblaster Magazine website!

Every week Ghettoblaster feature writers (and dear cousins!) Brian LaBenne and Luke LaBenne will be bringing you fresh new songs with the hopes of introducing you to some that you may consider to be the best song ever.  Both Brian and Luke have no idea what songs the other has picked, so what you are hearing is their genuine reaction to listening to the songs together.  Also, if you enjoy this episode, head to ITunes to subscribe and rate our podcast with the highest rating available to you.


Songs Played on The One About the Best of 2016

Outer Spaces – “Words” from A Shedding Snake on Don Giovanni Records

AJJ – “Cody’s Theme” from The Bible 2 on Side One Dummy Records

DOGBRETH – “Do You Really Want Me” from Second Home on Asian Man Records

Lambchop – “Relatives #2” from FLOTUS on Merge Records

Twin Peaks – “Getting Better” from Down in Heaven on Grand Jury Music

Mutual Benefit – “Not for Nothing” from Skip a Sinking Stone on Mom+Pop

PUP – “Doubts” from The Dream is Over on Side One Dummy Records

Frightened Rabbit – “I Wish I Was Sober” from Painting of a Panic Attack on Atlantic Records

Eric Bachmann – “Carolina” from Eric Bachmann on Merge Records

Kishi Bashi – “Honeybody” from Sonderlust on Joyful Noise Recordings

This is Past Sounds. Every Friday Ghettoblaster Magazine is looking back and finding great music from various eras. Below are songs that sound great no matter what decade they’re played in. So strap in as we take a musical journey, back in time.

Sparks – Sherlock Holmes (Angst In My Pants, Atlantic)


The LA-based duo Sparks, made up of oddball brothers Ron and Russell Mael, made some of the most interesting music of the 70’s, 80’s, and continue to make great music to this day. Lead by, but not oversaturated with, Ron Mael’s signature synths in association with electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, their sound was  way ahead of it’s time. The song begins with Russell describing Sherlock Holmes’ intelligence and playfully taking on the role of Sherlock to entice his lover. As the song progresses he pleads with his partner to stay the night if he pretends to be the much superior Sherlock. Building to an upbeat, power-pop bridge where Russell frustratedly declares, “I can’t be Sherlock Holmes.” This song is a quirky, little heart-breaking tale and a prime example of Sparks’ significant influence on modern synth-rock.


The Grateful Dead – Ripple (American Beauty, Warner Bros.)


The National’s Aaron & Bryce Dessner recently released the Grateful Dead tribute album Day of the Dead, featuring The Walkmen doing a great cover of Ripple, however nothing is better than the original. Seemingly a jaunty folk tune, this song has some of the deepest and most enlightened lyrics, contemplating the purpose of music itself and encouraging the listener to forge their own path in life. While the song is rooted in reality it hints towards unseen forces, “Ripple in still water when there is no pebble tossed or wind to blow.” There are gorgeous 3-part harmonies throughout, ending with a glorious vocal chorus, in which the band was backed by a choir of friends and family members. There are mixed views of The Grateful Dead, some are die hard fans and others subscribe to the “jam band” stereotype and write them off, but if you listen to this song the music speaks for itself.


Dirty Projectors feat. David Byrne – Knotty Pine (Dark Was The Night, 4AD)


2008’s Dark Was The Night is another Dessner Bros. produced complitation album, made to raise money and awareness for HIV and AIDS. The album is a who’s who of indie-rock stars, including this brilliant collaboration of Talking Head’s David Byrne and Dirty Projectors. The marriage of Amber Coffman and David Byrne’s vocals is bold and majestic, trading off verses then joining in the chorus. A driving bass drum and perky acoustic guitar riffs build to a boisterous staccato-piano hook. This is a fun track and an unexpected, yet ingenious pairing of indie-rock greats.

The Mountain Goats – San Bernardino (Heretic Pride, 4AD)


Last year, Rolling Stone dubbed The Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle “Rock’s Best Storyteller,” as his songs tell intricate stories with complex characters that embody relatable truths and emotions. This song tells the tale of an indigent young couple who stop at a roadside hotel for the birth of their child. John often speaks for people who are dismissed and underestimated, and demonstrates how they have unseen potential and value. He does that on this song as he describes the love between the couple and their newborn, “we will never be alone in this world, no matter what they say.” This track consists of Darnielle singing over lovely strings arrangements, a departure from the folk rock style the band is known for. John said these are some of his favorite characters that he’s ever created, “their feeling for one another inspires me.” He is now a father of two, but 3 years before the birth of his first son, he tapped into a parent’s love with this beautiful ballad.

Frightened Rabbit – Holy (Pedestrian Verse, Atlantic)


On Holy Scott Hutchison demonstrates his ability to take a theme and run with it, the verses are packed with biblical imagery as he faces off against a self-righteous pier. The chorus repeats, “you’re acting all holy, me I’m just full of holes.” This line varies and mutates as the song builds until finally Hutchinson proclaims, “I won’t ever be holy. Thank God I’m full of holes.” This song is about not just accepting your imperfections, but loving them as they are a part of you. Frightened Rabbit pioneered the folk rock sound popularized by bands like Mumford & Sons and Of Monsters & Men, but that sound evolved over time into the polished, poppy indie-rock you hear on this track.


Chance The Rapper – Prom Night (10 Day, Self Released)

The second to last song on Chance’s first mixtape, 10 Day, recorded during a 10 day suspension from his high school, shows how much he has grown and reminds us why we loved him in the first place. As always Chance uses childish buffoonery to convey much deeper truths. Comparing himself to teen movie troublemakers Charlie Bartlett, John Bender, and Ferris Bueller, he establishes himself as a rebellious youth and talks about how he missed his graduation and prom to pursue his passion of making music. There is a coming-of-age/high school nostalgia vibe to this song, but ultimately this is Chance first tapping into his signature style of epic compositions about his successes and the great things that he sees in his future. Throughout his career he has consistently preached a message of positivity. No matter if he’s speaking to his fans, his newborn daughter, or a person who threw a beer bottle at him on stage, he takes a line from this song and says, “It’s all love.” This song is done in the style of classic 90’s rap, with a bright, orchestral beat and it’s an interesting look back at the high school hip hop prodigy before he transformed into the young father who is running the rap game and making history.


Every Monday, Ghettoblaster is looking back to new albums released the previous week. Below you’ll find several albums released on Friday April 8th that we believe are definitely worth a listen.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Rough Trade Records)

Human Performance is one of the rare albums that attempts a lot of different things and succeeds in creating a solid yet cohesive, exciting listen. Parquet Courts primarily creates angular rock music with tight riffs and poetic lyricism, yet they veer off here and there into quasi-rap vocal delivery and dissonant, challenging rock passages. The album’s overall weathered sound makes it feel effortlessly like an old classic rock album in the best way possible.


Culture Abuse – Peach (6131 Records)

Peach is filled to the brim with fast and fun punk rock music. From start to finish this is just a great album for fans of well executed punk. The guitar sound, vocals and choruses are all solid, but what really stands out is the huge, awesome sounding drums. Culture Abuse is also featured in the current issue of Ghettoblaster.

Summer Flake – Hello Friends (Rice is Nice Records)

Summer Flake thrives on creating music that is both hard and soft. On their sophomore album, Hello Friends, Summer Flake have really found their voice and honed in on their sound. This sound can easily be described as pretty, hard, straightforward music. Ethereal female vocals are mixed with reverb drenched guitars, eventually giving way to heavily distorted guitar solos in most of the songs, which is not to say that the album is one note. Each song is vital and strong and they add up to produce a really enjoyable listen.

Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light (Woodsist)

Over the course of their first eight albums Woods has carefully cultivated and continuously tweaked their sound. What began as a straightforward lo-fi folk rock band has morphed over the years into a well produced, eclectic group of musicians. Their ninth and strongest album yet, City Sun Eater and the River of Light, finds Woods adding elements of Ethopian jazz and, most notably, an excellent horn section. What results from all these combined influences is a tight group of catchy and intricate songs.

Other Noteworthy Albums

Kweku Collins – Nat Love (Closed Sessions)


Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack (Atlantic Records)

Spring has sprung with Ghettoblaster #43! This issue features interviews from Damien Jurado, Santigold, RJD2, Primal Scream, Tortoise, Frightened Rabbit, The Thermals, Half Japanese, Destroyer 666, Basement, Adrian Younge, HXLT, The Upright Citizens Brigade’s Ian Roberts, Never Not Funny‘s Jimmy Pardo, the creators of Lucha Underground‘s comic books,XCOM 2, a 3-page comic live review of Wilco and so, so, so much more! Order online soon or grab one at your favorite record/book shop.

You can order a copy soon over here, or you can fill out this form to subscribe for a whole year’s worth of Ghettoblaster delivered straight to your door!

Canvasback/Atlantic recording artists Grouplove and Frightened Rabbit have both teamed up with Manchester Orchestra to release a very special 12-inch single for Record Store Day. The release, which features the Manchester Orchestra/Grouplove collaboration “Make It To Me” and the Manchester Orchestra/Frightened Rabbit collaboration “Architect,” will be available Saturday, April 20 at participating independent record stores. Listen to both tracks now: https://soundcloud.com/canvasback/sets/record-store-day.

Grouplove and Frightened Rabbit are both heading out on tour.  Catch them here:

4/12 – Baltimore, MD – John Hopkins University
4/17 – St. Louis, MO – University of Missouri
4/18 – Lincoln, NE – University of Nebraska
5/12 – Napa, CA – BottleRock Music Wine & Food Festival
5/17 – Gulf Shores, AL – Hangout Music Festival
5/18 – Atlanta, GA – Party in the Park
6/1 – Ozark, AR – Wakarusa
6/28 – Kansas City, MO – Kansas City Speedway
7/26 – Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest

4/10 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
4/11 – Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay Theatre
4/12 – Little Rock, AR – The Rev Room
4/13 – Dallas, TX – Trees
8/2 – Chicago, IL – Lollapalooza

Frightened Rabbit

By Jeff Locher

The beginning of Frightened Rabbit’s new album Pedestrian Verse provides a perfect introduction to Scott Hutchinson’s lyrics:

I am that dickhead in the kitchen / Giving wine to your best girl’s glass

I am the amateur pornographer / Unpleasant publisher by hand

Not here, not here / Heroic acts of man

I’m here, I’m here / Not heroic but I try

Those words, initially sung in falsetto and backed just by piano and light drums, eventually give way to big-time college-rock sing-along bliss.  Frightened Rabbit’s music sounds bigger than ever now that it has moved off U.K. indie Fat Cat to take advantage of the major-label resources Atlantic Records can provide.

Pedestrian Verse’s sound must be attributed at least in part to producer Leo Abrahams, a man who’s spent more than a decade assisting Brian Eno, but some must also be a result of the rest of the Scottish band’s members getting a bigger stake in the songs for the first time.  Grant Hutchinson—the first person to join his brother as a member of Frightened Rabbit—didn’t just back his brother on drums for this album; he and his bandmates collaborated with Scott in its songwriting. 

Grant talked with Ghettoblaster Magazine about Pedestrian Verse and his brother’s cleverly morose lyrics as Frightened Rabbit began its U.S. tour in March.

I wish I were going to see you play tomorrow night at my favorite venue ever, the Showbox at the Market in Seattle, which is sold out.  You’ve played there before, right?

We have, yeah; it’s a great venue.

Are you in Seattle today?

No, we’re currently in L.A. doing a session [“Morning Becomes Eclectic”] with KCRW.

Have you guys spent much time in Seattle when you’ve been there?  I wonder if you’d like it because it’s kind of like Scotland.

I love it; it’s one of my favorite cities in the U.S., definitely.  It reminds me of Glasgow.  It’s got the weather, obviously; it’s quite grey, which makes us feel at home.  The music scene is incredible, as it is in Glasgow.  Decent people as well—friendly people who are quite humble—so we definitely feel at home when we’re in Seattle.

On the new album, on songs like “State Hospital,” Scott kind of stepped out of himself in writing lyrics, but still a lot of the songs are pretty personal to him.  Sometimes his lyrics are really self-deprecating, but in a likable way.  Does he really feel that bad about himself, or is he making exaggerations to entertain us?

It depends [laughs].  Most of the songs are true and honest and autobiographical, and the albums are chronological.  If we’re looking at The Midnight Organ Fight (2008), that is how Scott felt.  As everyone knows, it’s a straight-up break-up album—nothing more to it.  When he was going through that, he was crashing in a cupboard in my flat, so that was heavy.

On this one, it’s come back to the same brutal honesty, but Scott has taken a step outside himself and is looking more at other people’s lives.  Look at the “State Hospital” lyrics, and it’s not about Scott, obviously; it’s about a female character who’s born into a life that she’ll never be able to change.  But I think always something Scott always does is there’s this little glimmer of hope he like to get in there, especially at the end of “State Hospital,” I would say.  It’s definitely different this time: Still it’s honest, and still it’s brutal and heartfelt, but it’s not just Scott moaning about his own life.

Did the band help Scott write lyrics for Pedestrian Verse?  I read that this was a more collaborative album…

No, no.  The lyrics always will remain with Scott.  Although we’ll collaborate on music, I think it’s important to still have that thread that people recognize throughout Frightened Rabbit records.  To be honest, I don’t think any of us would really feel like taking on that responsibility because we all feel that out of the five of us he’s the best lyricist.  And out of a lot more people he’s definitely one of the best lyricists around.  It’s not something that any of us would be interested in getting involved in.

I was watching the “Making of Pedestrian Verse” video online and listening to Scott talk about the band’s musical collaboration, and he said that while it involved some arguments that he didn’t always get to win, it was really rewarding in the end.  Can you talk about any of those arguments to give a glimpse into the writing or recording process?

It rarely got to the full-blown argument stage because it was a decision essentially that Scott made—and he had to make it—that he wanted us to write with him.  We toured together as a five-piece for two or three years before we felt like we had arrived at the stage where we were a band and could all have our input be as important as everyone else’s.  No specific arguments… A lot of times, maybe Scott just left the room.  It was difficult for us to find where our place was in the writing process, and at the same time difficult for Scott to relinquish responsibilities that he’s had for the past six or seven years.  It was all very democratic, a good experience, all very positive stuff.

Also in that making-of video, Scott mentioned that American artists like Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy were influences on him.  What have you guys learned from touring with American artists, especially with Death Cab for Cutie in 2011?  Did those guys give you any sage advice?

We definitely learned a lot from Death Cab and also from a Scottish band called Biffy Clyro.  They’ve had a similar path in that they worked away and had a few records before people started taking notice.  Touring with Death Cab really affirms your faith in the process of working, touring, and giving it time.  A lot of bands get to a certain stage of success and they don’t know how to handle it or where to go from there, and that can create a lot of pressure.  The way Death Cab and Biffy have done it—and the way we’re in the process of trying to do it—is just to work hard, plod away at it, and don’t turn something down because you think you’re above it.  Death Cab is a band we really look up to in that sense, and musically as well.  Ben Gibbard is one of the greatest lyricists we have at the moment.  Just their ethos as a band as well—they take it very seriously and are beyond the stage of drinking up and gathering ‘round screaming.

There was a piece in Stereogum recently that talked about Pedestrian Verse as being “a bunch of really great tracks that are actually rewarded by being pulled away from the group,” kind of making it sound like a good collection of singles as opposed to a concept album.  What do you think about that?

I can see the angle that they’re coming from.  I think we’d like it to be described as possibly chapters in a book.  It’s definitely not a concept album in any way.  I think there were parts of it when Scott started writing where he had a bit of that in his head, but…  Yes, it is a collection of songs, but there’s a thread that runs through them like on any album we’ve done in the past.  I think it comes together really well, and again, it’s not just Scott moaning about his life time after time [laughs].

With that analysis in mind, can you say why “Today’s Cross” didn’t make the album?  The video for that just came out, and it’s a really great song.

We had three or four songs this time—or if you include the EP we put out last year we had seven or eight songs—that just didn’t fit.  We’re a band that looks at sequencing as something really important, and we don’t want to just chuck a bunch of songs down in any order.  There are a couple extra songs on the deluxe version, and people have asked why those didn’t make the record.  We just didn’t find a place for them.  We messed around a bit, threw some in, took some others out, and we settled on ten main tracks that sort of fell into place.  But the songs we put on the EP and “Today’s Cross,” we didn’t want them to disappear and for people never to hear them, so it was important that we got the chance to make a little video [of “Today’s Cross”] and have it released as a B-side.  We felt the songs were strong, but there just wasn’t a place for them on the record.  And the video was a lot of fun [laughs]!

In the video for “Today’s Cross,” Jesus plays a cassette that’s labeled, “Frightened Rabbits,” and the pluralized band name shows up in the video for “Backyard Skulls” too.  Did people used to make that mistake on marquees a lot?

That’s a complete and utter coincidence.  Well, it was done on purpose both times.  We didn’t know that the guy who made the “Today’s Cross” video had already done that before we arrived, and same with the other one.  Our Twitter handle also has an “S” at the end of it.  I think it’s fine as long as people are listening to our music.  If there was another band called Frightened Rabbits, they might get confused.  That would be annoying. 

Is “Today’s Cross” related to the Frightened Rabbit logo?  I was wondering what the cross with the two horizontal lines means.  

Ah, nothing really.  Scott’s responsible for all the artwork, and he’s quite into symbolism.  He did a lot of work on that in art school.  I think his main interest and the point of those symbols is that they do mean nothing, but like yourself, people will look at them and go, “I wonder what that means” and think about it for themselves.  That’s brilliant because it’s open to interpretation.  We’ve added an extra one, so there’s three [horizontal] bars now on the new artwork, whereas previously there were only two bars [on the cross symbol].  People had started getting tattoos, and now they’re all pissed off because they don’t have three bars.  That’s kind of the purpose of the whole thing.  Essentially, it’s not really meant to mean anything, but whatever you find in it is fine for you.  You can take what you like from it. 

There have been a lot of great Scottish rock bands in your same vein over the past several years, like The Twilight Sad.  You guys all seem to get along well and work together from time to time.  What is it about Scotland?  Do you guys have something in the water or the Scotch whisky that makes for really good indie rock?

Well, the water is what creates the whisky that we all drink, so that’s important…  As a nation, we are very into looking at dark humor—James [Graham] from the Twilight Sad, Aidan Moffat from Arab Strap as well, and Malcolm Middleton.  I think we all have that sort of miserable streak that comes across with that humor, and not taking yourself too seriously.  The weather’s shit, so you can spend a lot of time indoors playing music.  That’s basically what it comes down to.  You’ve got Arab Strap there, and you’ve got Belle and Sebastian going back even farther, and Mogwai as well.  When you grow up being surrounded by bands like that, and if you have any interest in music at all, those kinds of artists can only fuel your interest and make you want to be part of something.  We’ve always felt that way, and hopefully in the future bands will feel the same way about us.