On Second Listen: Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

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    Sibling relations differ from family to family. Some brothers and sisters seem to be one mind split into two bodies. Others appear to be polar opposites who incidentally share a surname. Thanksgiving dinners can be fun reunions or day-long screaming matches that resemble a David Mamet play more than a Norman Rockwell painting.

    Musical collaborations between siblings can be equally unpredictable. You get triumphs (think of The Knife or The National) or brow-raisers (think of Donnie and Marie or Nelson).

    Luckily for our ears, Scottish brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison’s band, Frightened Rabbit, leans more toward the former than the latter. Their collaboration of lead vocals and guitar, respectively, makes some of the most sincere and pleasing music of 2008.

    The Midnight Organ Fight, the sophomore effort from the Selkirk band, which also includes Billy Kennedy and Andy Monaghan, plays like a teenage boy’s journal writings: heartfelt and emotional, almost to a fault. Yet, more often than not, the album works because the earnest vocal delivery sells the songs. When you’re ready to roll your eyes at the line, “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm,” the despair in Scott Hutchison’s voice makes you nod in agreement. Plus, from an American standpoint, brogues give most anyone some leeway to veer into melodrama now and again.

    The music is consistently indie rock from the opening acoustic guitar on “The Modern Leper” to the final strums of the quiet “Who’d You Kill Now?” which sounds like a demo the brothers didn’t want to sully with sleek production. Except for two tracks, the brief closer and equally pithy musical “Bright Pink Bookmark”, the album is simple guitar and drum working in tandem with the vocals. There are no meandering solos or futuristic beeps to distract from the songwriting.

    You know what you’re getting into with the opening track, which is easily the best track of the album and among the best of the year. Scott Hutchison carries a parable of a crippled leper as a lovelorn man to the edge of corniness without crossing the line. “You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg / Well, I am ill but I’m not dead and I don’t know which of those I prefer” is the kind of lyric you want to tattoo on your arm (or write on the cover of your geometry textbook) because you relate to it. Or at least you want to imagine you do.

    On more than one occasion Frightened Rabbit resembles The National, though you’d be hard-pressed to confuse the two. More accurately, the band resembles a live performance of The National where Matt Berninger sounds like he’s pushing the words out instead of mumbling them as he does on the albums. And like last year’s Boxer, The Midnight Organ Fight is a sometimes quiet, always passionate album that might slip past you on the first or second listen, but after a few spins you’ll realize something’s waiting to be discovered.

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