Review Summary: Lives up to Frightened Rabbit's best material, at times even eclipsing it.
The fact that Owl John
is the solo debut of Frightened Rabbit front man Scott Hutchison provides an enormous, almost canopy-like backdrop of perspective. It’s why the entire album feels self-deprecating and masochistically introspective, not to mention the primary reason that “we suck one another at night” is an acceptable – nay, endearing
– lyrical passage. But alone, that simple detail doesn’t convey the natural beauty and enormous emotional scope that resides precisely within the covers of its case. Owl John
is one of those records that is so damn personal you’ll want to carry it around with you wherever you go. It’s a fitting quality, considering that Owl John
was meant to be Hutchison’s most private record to date. Amidst a Pedestrian Verse
tour in January 2014, he expressed his desire to record material separately, going as far as to state that he was tired of making “band music.” With Atlantic Records’ full permission to indulge, Hutchison has created a sprawling confessional that you’ll love and ache with until its very conclusion.
Upon analyzing his solo work, it seems that Scott’s primary reason for wanting to record alone was to have a cathartic vessel at his disposal. This used to be exactly what Frightened Rabbit was, especially around the time of its inception. However, as the band progressed, a group-oriented approach to songwriting took precedence. Since Owl John
is – save some small but noticeable departures – still in the vein of Frightened Rabbit, it’s safe to assume that Hutchison’s reasons for recording independently were mostly personal, not musical. This shines through in the lyrical department, where Scott is as sincere and blunt as he’s ever been. Lines like “I’ll piss in public, I’ll *** the bed…I need assistance just to live” and “How could I come to be such a stupid boy…how could I ever be what you’re looking for” close out the album (via ‘Stupid Boy’) and essentially define what Owl John
is: a vulnerable piece, generally unhappy with itself and unsure of where to take its next step. That’s also how we know that Hutchison truly made this album his
– it personifies his sarcastic wit and self-condemning personality in a way that hasn’t been showcased since 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight
Musically, Scott “Owl John” Hutchison lays it all down on his eponymous debut. Gorgeous melodies are painted across a variety of instrumental backgrounds, forming an ideal blend of his more traditional emotionally-charged ballads and bolder, more unfamiliar pieces. ‘Ten Tons of Silence’ is both, serving as one of the most immediately appreciable songs on the album. Scott laments “you can’t just leave me here” and “you won’t believe how quickly peace turns into bloody violence”, mourning what it’s like to go from being in a healthy relationship to having things rapidly dissolve right before your eyes. It eventually concludes with an unprecedented electronic foray, complete with altered vocal effects that ingeniously symbolize the emotion gradually draining away from his voice. Riskier moves such as this come and go on Owl John
, and they are highly successful. ‘Hate Music’, for instance, stomps its way into the spotlight with a meticulously driving beat that would define the song if it wasn’t for what Hutchison described as a “big, ballsy riff” that “doesn’t really work in Frightened Rabbit” – which I’d elaborate on if that didn’t actually sum it up quite nicely. Opener ‘Cold Creeps’ is also a departure from Hutchison’s roots, commencing with a prolonged, percussion-driven ambiance that increases in intensity as the song nears its first verse. These bits of experimentation manage to mix with Hutchison’s tried-and-tested approach flawlessly, making for an album that feels comfortably familiar but never dull.
The unparalleled musical and lyrical beauty of Hutchison’s past works were not lost on Owl John
, either. Take ‘A Good Reason to Grow Old’ – easily the most beautiful song on the record – for example. Restrained guitars and drums take the back seat to classical piano notes; all of which ascend together towards the track’s breathtaking, string-laden culmination. “With my head in my hands I resolved to die alone…I was ready to drown in the afterlife, but not anymore - that I finally found a good reason to grow old” Hutchison sings, as the song picks up speed. Finally, he belts out one of the most confident and uplifting lines of his career, “Oh, how she murders…oh, plunges a knife into the suicide in my blood”, thus revealing that his reason for not dying can be attributed to this woman, a presence of love that has apparently saved his life. It’s the kind of sweeping, romantically-inclined song that Hutchison seems to craft about one time per album – and it’s easily one of his best. ‘Two’, ‘Los Angeles, Be Kind’, ‘Red Hand’ and ‘Stupid Boy’ also all qualify as worthy standouts, but the truth is that every single song on Owl John
stands brilliantly on its own – it just makes it that much sweeter that all ten tracks function cohesively as a stunningly beautiful, extremely personal masterpiece.
Oftentimes, side projects and solo albums get overlooked. The widespread prevalence of b-side material and failed experimentation on such releases has perpetuated this stereotype, leaving listeners scrambling to find the worthwhile releases in between. Not only is Owl John
worthwhile, but it lives up to Frightened Rabbit's best material – at times even eclipsing it. What began a mere eight months ago as a spur of the moment, emotional palette-cleanser for Scott Hutchison has shaped up into one of the year’s finest alternative releases, and fans of Frightened Rabbit – fans of music in general
– would be wise to not
let this one go by.