The Midnight Organ Fight
Styles: thoughtful expansive everyperson pop
Others: The Twilight Sad, Spirit of the West, Snow Patrol, R.E.M.
It is about time we experienced a resurgence in the nearly lost art of classic songwriting. After years working in bars along the coasts and highlands of Scotland, Grant and Scott Hutchinson's Frightened Rabbit have officially joined the trendy set, releasing an album on FatCat that woos jaded indie rock palates with time-honored techniques of songwriting and an innovative rhetoric style of lyricism. The Midnight Organ Fight is a sophisticated effort done with blue-collar panache, like the warm, jagged tearing of the heart with a dull penknife rather than a sharp-worded épée strike. They also feature a strong Caledonian accent for which I happen to be a sucker.
Frightened Rabbit's strength is writing about relationships in all their sordid glory. The Midnight Organ fight is full of tragic-comic tales that outmatches human suffering by veering it into art. “I Feel Better” is a wonderful attempt at closure, set to spastic strumming and well-timed horn blasts. When our narrator says “This is the last song I write about you,” he is outwardly confident, but inside he barely believes what he's saying. “Old Old Fashioned” is a wistful wish for the past and an attempt to save a relationship tired from the fast modern wheels on which the partners live, and the clever “Head Rolls Off” (“Jesus is just a Spanish boy's name/ How come one man got so much fame”) is just, well, wonderful. Meanwhile, opening track “The Modern Leper” is an overwrought rocker that contains the nice “You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg/ That limb that I lost was the only thing holding me up.”
These above are just some convenient examples off the top of my head. The album is crammed with heavy songs that hit you like a Hershey’s Kiss followed by a Glasgow kiss. Sitting pretty at track six is “The Twist,” a standout among many standouts. Musically, it is stylish; lyrically, it is exceptional. For once, it is a complete pleasure to find a band that actually cares about crafting well-versed, direct songs that move you way beyond the usual fare, instead of obsessing over catchy choruses (which “The Twist” also has in spades). The song is a heartbreaker but strangely erotic in its desperation. Check these out: "Let’s pretend I’m attractive, and then you won’t mind to come twist for awhile/ It’s the night, I can be who you like, and I’ll quietly leave before it gets light” and “So twist and whisper the wrong name, I don’t care and nor do my ears/ And twist yourself around me, I need company, I need human heat.” And again, “The Twist” has backing vocals that command your attention instead of merely providing the “backing” (the backing vocals throughout The Midnight Organ Fight will be among the most skillfully arranged you will hear all year).
A couple of minor objections: Some of The Midnight Organ Fight comes dangerously close to sounding like any number of roots bands you care to think of (for me, Canadian folk-rock bands like Spirit of the West or Great Big Sea). Thankfully, Frightened Rabbit rise far above the froth of these dime-a-dozen acts. So, the album is a bit Celtic-y in parts, but the band judiciously stops well short of relying on any bodhrán, uilleann pipes, or “Whiskey in the Jar.” At the risk of putting you completely off The Midnight Organ Fight, there is also the nagging and uncomfortable similarity at times between Scott’s vocals and Adam Duritz' (Counting Crows). I am sorry, but it's something I can't shake. Hopefully you can.
Although they are an unusual and erudite pop band, the most refreshing thing about Frightened Rabbit is their total lack of pretension. In fact, the most venturous thing about The Midnight Organ Fight may very well be its conventionality. In a time when every artist worth a squirt is looking for something wildly untried to set itself apart from the throng, you will delight in Frightened Rabbit’s strong, simple songwriting and heart-on-sleeve lyrical mastery. This is the least fashionable album I have heard in ages, and all the better for it. It is also easy to digest, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if Frightened Rabbit broke through into the mainstream arena, despite, or maybe even aided by, its hip, “small label” affiliation with indie powerhouse FatCat. There is still a pub rock feel to them, and one thinks that if they do become stars they will not forget how they got there nor will they belittle their considerable songwriting talents by adding bloated instrumentation or feigned emotion. A top-notch sophomore album from a band to watch.
1. The Modern Leper
2. I Feel Better
3. Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
4. Fast Blood
5. Old Old Fashioned
6. The Twist
7. Bright Pink Bookmark
8. Head Rolls Off
9. My Backwards Walk
10 Keep Yourself Warm
13. Floating in the Forth
14. Who'd You Kill Now?