Review Summary: Get together now. Find hope.
If you haven’t experienced a panic attack before, consider yourself a lucky individual. It’s a harrowing event that ties your stomach in a knot and makes each breath feel like a forceful shoveling of hot coal. Your lungs overwork themselves. Your diaphragm feels like a lunatic unhinged, panting and unrelenting in its pursuit of nothing concrete. And while your eyes make beelines to and fro at hardly anything in particular, it’s hard not to succumb and collapse against the nearest wall. It’s an assault on the senses and minutes turn into the longest of years-- it all often feels insurmountable. For a vicious circle lay in the chaos of a panic attack. You can never prepare for it, and you never truly know it’s coming until it’s already happening. Then, when you realize that you’re panicking and your anxiety is giving your head the ol' pillowcase-full-of-soap treatment, you panic more. Why"-- well, because you’re having a panic attack, of course; and there’s hardly a thing you can do to stop it. And if I may shift into the perhaps less "professional" first-person point of view, I’ll say this: truthfully, the only comfort I ever found was that someone else was going through the same thing I was. Not because they too were in pain, but simply because they understood.
So, when I saw the title of Frightened Rabbit’s fifth album, Painting of a Panic Attack
, I found a certain warmth in it. It’s clear that the Scottish quartet intended this album to be their most personal and baring yet, and in many ways, it is.
If you’ve ever heard any of the band’s previous material, then you’ll quickly notice that Painting of a Panic Attack
is slightly different. The idiosyncratic mixture of Scottish folk and modern indie rock is still there; however, now there is a nearly ever-present element of electronic swellings buried beneath the usual guitar-driven melodies. It makes each song more dynamic, whilst expanding the band’s sound in ways that were often unreachable before. And with Aaron Dessner’s sure-handed production (of The National fame), the end-result of Painting of a Panic Attack
is dark and dreary, yet lifted out of its projected perpetual gloom by the energetic instrumentation that Frightened Rabbit is known for. This album is no quiet, slow-burn into the trenches of anxiety-- and it’s all the better for it.
Now, on Frightened Rabbit’s 2006 album, The Midnight Organ Fight
, the topic of suicide and depression is somewhat shrouded throughout the album. You know through the lyrics and delivery of vocalist Scott Hutchison that he isn’t stable, but he doesn’t make it truly apparent until the penultimate song, “Floating in the Forth”, in which the song is literally about him longing to jump off the Forth Bridge. On Painting of a Panic Attack
, the subject of depression is in the foreground, unflinching and centerstage. No longer do you just suspect that Hutchison is suffering beneath all his crooked-grin wit. You just know.
For, throughout the album, his pain is put on constant display, making the surrounding instrumentation all the more desperate and eager; shown on album-highlights “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” and album-closer “Die Like a Rich Boy”, both of which are morose at surface-level, yet hold tiny slivers of light within.
On opener “Death Dream”, the meaning of the album’s name becomes immediately clear, and it’s rather unexpected. Hutchison sings of his own worst nightmare: finding a loved one dead after she takes her own life. The song is slow-moving and the imagery is brutal yet gorgeous ("butterflied arms, tell me this one has flown away"), whilst Hutchison provides a timid falsetto over piano and the constant drone of distortion, describing the horrific scene in full detail and etching out this painting of a panic attack. The song’s lyrics are what truly makes it a cut above other Frightened Rabbit songs; for in such few words, it quite possibly says the most the band ever has. “Death Dream” shows the band at its most emotional and fractured state, whilst courageous in their exposure of such a disquieting fear. And God, it is beautiful,
with each song following suit, making the hardest of situations into stunning celebrators of the human condition.
But really, the meaning of it all lay in whatever the listener attributes it to. For, perhaps the album is titled Painting of a Panic Attack
not because of the single dream-like incident of the opening song; but instead because of twelve collective moments, carried forth by a band that’s no novice to poignant and powerful songwriting. It’s a throng of tracks to help the listener understand the helplessness of a panic attack, whilst providing a shoulder to lean on for those who already know just how helpless it all feels-- if only to make it a little easier to get through the long day.