I wasn’t totally clear on what to expect from a new Frightened Rabbit release. The Midnight Organ Fight was a real surprise and a breath of fresh air, and came at a time when folk really needed that kind of clever, honest and uplifting songwriting. This was, of course, before the Mumford-fatigue hit. In 2013, a simple search of “folk” on bandcamp and you’ll find a plethora of artists imitating what Frightened Rabbit pulled off so well in 2008. Leading up to the release of Pedestrian Verse, I was both nervous and excited. A new release from the band who (in my opinion) gave folk the much-needed kick it deserved was something to be excited about. However, with so many similar artists coming out in the intermittent years, and the furthering of folk into the mainstream, I was also worried about how unique the once-innovative band would sound.
Then the album hit, and laid my fears to rest.
If there’s one thing Frightened Rabbit know how to do right that I feel a whole lot of current folk bands should take note of is their use of builds and crescendos. More specifically; every high on Pedestrian Verse feels earned. The term “crescendo-core” I think is a simplifying and insulting one, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t heard a dozen folk bands (including the big one) who feel that a crescendo is simply the final part of a song rather than a musical tool to be implemented. If the music doesn’t lead into it respectfully – if it’s something just slapped onto the end of a song – then it’s meaningless. All those pretty chords and spiralling strings mean nothing. On Pedestrian Verse, every dizzying high is backed up by solid songwriting and perfect implementation. You never feel like you’re being pulled along non an emotional leash; rather, that you’re hearing and sharing an emotional travelogue. Each song on Pedestrian Verse is a step along a long path leading to a truly cathartic and satisfying whole. It’s the kind of basic but fundamental know-how that puts Frightened Rabbit above their contemporaries; and in a way, it also comes down to honesty.
Okay, at this point, I acknowledge I really should stop comparing Frightened Rabbit to their peers, but it’s just so difficult when an album like Pedestrian Verse comes along and just seems like a perfect example of a style done right. Not only does the album do folk right, but if you compare it to Frightened Rabbit’s back catalogue, it’s done differently, too. I know, who would have thought; a modern folk band who alternate, change and evolve. Take risks, even! It seems bizarre, but the album really does differentiate itself. On Pedestrian Verse, you’ll find intelligent and sometimes esoteric lyrics pushing each song beyond what it should be. So many songs on the record should just be catchy folk tunes, but the writing behind them forces you to take more of them in and pay them the respect they deserve. It’s impressive the amount of thought put into even the lighter, shorter and more fun tracks on the album – and it elevates them from the fluff you expect them to be into necessary and cherished elements of Pedestrian Verse. In fact, there isn’t really any filler on Pedestrian Verse – each song has its place, and there doesn’t seem to be a wasted note on the record.
Take “Oil Slick” for instance. The song goes through most of its runtime relying on an admittedly catchy hook, and at first seems like a fun if insubstantial song. However, the song eventually strips itself of its simple catch and evolves into something totally different – building and then erupting into a totally unexpected but totally fitting, energetic and beautiful harmony. And just like that, out of nowhere, you’re in love with a song that first struck you as being built around a simple riff. This is a trick that Frightened Rabbit pull off a few times on Pedestrian Verse; the songs often sneak up on you as you’re listening to them and pull the rug out from under you. It’s just amazing how it’s done so consistently on the album – more than how, how consistently and successfully.
Pedestrian Verse, simply put, is a damned fine-tuned album. The craftsmanship is meticulous and the songwriting fastidious – and in the end the delicate process of piecing these songs together leads to a bombastic, emotionally fulfilling, fun and thoughtful record. Pedestrian Verse is a high point for a band that had already made their mark.
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