As the nights draw in there's something fitting about Frightened Rabbit releasing a fresh slice of their brand of autumnal Scottish musings. State Hospital may be an EP of material that didn't thematically fit on their forthcoming album, but it's far from a selection of unfinished and aborted cast offs.
It's also a landmark moment as it's technically Frightened Rabbit's first major label release since signing to Atlantic. Pleasingly, that decision hasn't seen any of the rough edges from Scott Hutchison's compositions removed. Instead it's allowed the band to be a little more adventurous. For the first time the writing credits are shared and the trend that started with 2011's A Frightened Rabbit EP of guest vocalists continues with Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat making an appearance here.
Lead track 'State Hospital' reveals an invigorated Frightened Rabbit. Grant Hutchison's drums sound like the thunder of a gathering storm; indeed, his contribution is prominent in the mix of all 5 tracks here. Meanwhile, the guitars weave themselves around Scott Hutchison's vocals, which feature some of his most memorable lines. As he narrates the melancholic but hopeful story of his female protagonist he describes her in striking ways: 'She cries in the High Street, just to be heard', 'Her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs' and 'Her blood is thicker than concrete'. It's this intimate portrait coupled with Frightened Rabbit's trademark melodies that make the EP an essential addition to their back catalogue.
The remaining tracks are no less striking with 'Boxing Night' finally seeing the light of day after an elongated gestation period in Hutchison's notebook. Again the lyrics use metaphor to illustrate a kitchen sink drama; 'I am hostage blind, deaf to the din outside. Good Glasgow could burn to its timber tonight; I'd barely blink an eye'. While it serves as an extension of the band's previous Christmas single, it's understandable that the track finds its home on an EP as opposed to an album. Scott Hutchison freely admits that 'Boxing Night' feels like its re-treading old ground.
His vocals very much take centre stage over the 20 minutes of new material here, especially when backed with the almost choral like backing vocals of the rest of the band. However, the final track 'Wedding Gloves' sees the spoken word poetry of Aidan Moffat stealing the show. Depending on your perspective, this is a bold indication of how Frightened Rabbit may embrace their Scottish heritage and develop their sound in the future. As a duet it's incredibly effective, but Moffat's voice is so distinctive that it sounds more like Arab Strap than Frightened Rabbit. It's a minor complaint, but one that diverts your attention from the overall strength of the EP. State Hospital may be a selection of material that had no other natural home, but it's also an indication that the fourth album from Falkirk's finest may end up being an essential purchase in 2013.
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