23 March 2011

2010: Frightened Rabbits, Futurebirds

Frightened Rabbit
The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Released March 1, 2010 (Fat Cat)

Short Notes: Welsh indie rock prompts philosophical musings, receives middling grade

Brandon: B

I liked the last Frightened Rabbit record a fair bit, and I came into this record with an uncharacteristic degree of optimism. But this record was a bit disappointing to me, and I’m not entirely sure I can articulate why.

On paper (as they say--and I realize how strange a way of describing music that particular metaphor is. What I mean is that, “given the way Frightened Rabbit is described by the music press and several friends I generally trust about these sort of things...”), this is a band I should enjoy. Lots of swirling guitars, pop instincts, and a tendency towards the lo-fi version of soaring, epic song climaxes (“The Loneliness and the Scream”). But listening to the record again, I’m reminded of my equally negative review of another album I hoped to like more than I did--Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record. Like that record, The Winter of Mixed Drinks fails to capture the thing I liked most about this band’s earlier work--the popiness that shined through the lack of layered sophistication. There was something passionate but slightly innocent and amateurish about their last record that’s not here anymore. This record sounds overproduced: with too much of the space filled up with strumming and echo and odd other sounds. It’s just too busy for what I like about it to shine through.

Lin: B+

Brandon has this theory -- or way of describing music -- that I've never fully bought into (philosophical differences, you see, as I take a less Platonic and more Gadamerian view) but is nonetheless quite useful sometimes as a descriptor. He talks of certain bands, certain music sounding like "the music in my head." When I use this idea, such as now, I mean it as "if my personality and thoughts were music, this is what it would sound like." There are bands that meet that ideal better than Frightened Rabbit -- but only like one or two. I love Scott Hutchinson as a vocalist. I'm not willing to put him in the top ten or anything, but the way he sings -- on the edge of breaking under the weight not of sadness but melancholy -- is more expressive than nearly all singers working today. The music compliments his stylings perfectly.

So it's a shame I don't like this album more. I love the feel of it, the sound of it, but don't much care for the songs. It's pathos-laden, but doesn't hit me in the other Arisotellian areas (logos and ethos) as strongly. In short, what it does it does extremely well but lacks the well-roundedness to truly WOW. There are some great tracks here -- "Not Miserable," "Nothing Like You," and the single "Swim Until You Can't See Land" being my favorites -- but I don't see myself coming back to the album all that often except in those "I don't know what to listen to" times. I feel like I'm being a bit generous with the B+ grade because it pushes some of my personal buttons, so I wouldn't be offended if you consider this more of a B review.

Hampton’s Lullaby

Released July 27, 2010 (Autumn Tone)

Short Notes: Fuzzy Athens (GA) sound, alt. country edition.

Brandon: A-

This record was a pleasant surprise. I have no recollection of how this ended up on our list, but I’m glad it did. The Futurebirds are from the ridiculously productive indie hotspot of Athens, Georgia, and they’ve played with the Drive-By Truckers. This is their first (full-length) album, and it’s a poised, well-crafted debut, with a fuzzy, echo-y sound and a singer who evokes David Berman of the Silver Jews, or a southern Joe Pernice during his Scud Mountain Boys days. There’s a good deal of twang here (and some nice steel guitar soloing on my favorite track, the lilting “There is No Place for This to Go”), but a lot more diversity than you often get with these kind of indie alt. country-type records (the propulsive “Happy Animals” helps to keep the second half of the record, otherwise full of sad, slow songs from dragging). Highly recommended.

Lin: B

So, I learned something today: the washed-out production that I hate on all these modern pop albums isn't nearly as offensive on an alt/country album. Who would've thought? It's still not ideal -- I'd prefer the pedal steel twang to be crisper, but the mud feels more organic in the backwoods than in the bright city lights. That said, I don't have a whole lot to say about Hampton's Lullaby: it sounds like Titus Andronicus in places and Band of Horses in others but doesn't really exert enough individuality to secure a place on the same level as its RIYL compatriots. "Battle for Rome" is my favorite track here and will probably make it onto a mixtape or two, but that'll probably be the extent of my future involvement with this album.

1 comment:

Solon said...

"Boring" is the word you are looking for with the Frightened Rabbits album...and I'm someone who likes boring music.