When Glasgow-based band Frightened Rabbit unveiled their debut, Sing the Greys, last year, the budget of their self-made label limited pressings of the release to just 1000 physical copies. Acquiring a fair amount of critical praise among those who were first able to get their hands on a copy, Sing the Greys eventually became common subject matter for all sorts of indie music blog writers. Though the album’s limited availability would eventually broaden, reaching new listeners (particularly when independent retail website eMusic made digital copies readily available to the states), the record was still essentially an LP of assembled demos. Fortunately, after signing a deal with FatCat in February earlier this year—before the Scottish trio got too caught up in the labor of any new material—the boys of Frightened Rabbit took some time with producer Alan Douches to revamp, re-record, and remaster their introductory work.
With brothers Scott (vocals/guitar) and Grant (drums/vocals) Hutchison leading the way, and friend Billy Kennedy (guitar/keys) rounding out the line-up, the resulting incarnation of Sing the Greys is one that is appropriately polished. Exhibiting a fuller, more complete quality, Frightened Rabbit’s garage pop is given all kinds of room to breathe. Arrangements that once had endearing balance issues have been skillfully augmented. Guitar parts that were once barely heard have suddenly been given a crisp prominence within the foreground. And despite the fact that no one within Frightened Rabbit plays bass (instead relying on dropped octaves on their guitars) its illusionary insertion to the mix provides a much-needed element of weight and depth to each song.
Of course, all these smoothed edges hardly take away from the fact that Sings the Greys is still very much an excellent example of unfettered pop rock. Keeping the instrumentation to its bare necessities, and their harmonizing vocals coarse and untrained, the members of Frightened Rabbit are the approachable everymen playing to no one in particular in an empty room.
This unpretentious charm is particularly noticeable in the standout track “Music Now”. With the drum kit’s floor tom offering a constant downbeat thump, as though pounding on a door that just won’t open, and an acoustic guitar’s bright ring, these young Scots offer a biting tongue in cheek letter to many of today’s product personas. Though Hutchinson brothers sing lines such as “Make your music / Make it so loud, and so trite”, and make declarations that “If this song falls on deaf ears I’ll lip-sync it so you can hear”, the song should not be construed as some bitter judgment from a couple of jealous, indie hipsters. The tone is too sad for such criticism to hold up. Instead it is almost as if the track was a kind of lamentation, just a rallying plea for something genuine to return in mainstream music.
Aside from this particular pop culture commentary the focus of Sing the Greys doesn’t wander far from the reliability of troubled relationships. While the frenetic romp of the album opener “The Greys” has its fun (“What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?”) one of the best moments come from the designated single “Be Less Rude”. With a great, rolling guitar hook, plinking piano keys in the background, and the constant hum of a harmonica throughout, the song depicts a squaring off between a particular couple (“This is what we need / A line in the sand / I will cross to here before the tide come in”). Ultimately in the anxiousness of its musical arrangement, the song minimally conveys how our own behavior can affect the people we care about.
One of Sing the Greys’ more interesting features is its inclusion of several “Incident” tracks: “The First Incident” serves up a vignette of ambient fuzz and vocal harmony; “The Second Incident” is a revolving chorus of crashing voices, beats, and cymbals; and “The Final Incident” is a subdued chopping of piano keys. While some may be justified in criticizing these unusual transitions as lethargic filler, others may find them to be the kind of supportive concepts that help thread an album together as a whole. Either way, these instrumentals hardly take anything away from the record’s overall impact.
Ultimately, from the gradient guitar bounce of songs like “Go-Go Girls” to the intimate folk of “Behave!” and “Snake” (originally a untitled coda found at the end of the anthem epic “Square 9”), the boys of Frightened Rabbit have offered up a professional reconstruction that maintains the unassuming posture of its former self. With the band already writing, rehearsing, and recording their next effort, Sing the Greys offers the perfect means for listeners to play catch-up.
// Notes from the Road
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