Last summer, when Frightened Rabbit released A Frightened Rabbit EP, which included a trio of new and good songs, it seemed that the Scottish quintet were in a rich vein of form and that it wouldn’t be long until we got their fourth LP and follow up to 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Over a year later the fourth album is still forthcoming, but this seems to be a case of the band being more pragmatic than usual, rather than a case of writer’s block, and to thank us for our patience they’ve given us the five track State Hospital EP.
Like last year’s A Frightened Rabbit EP, State Hospital lacks some coherency in style, but its brevity makes this less of a problem. The collection starts off with the title track and picks up where the band left off on The Winter Of Mixed Drinks with pounding drums and a full-blooded delivery of emotional lyrics from Hutchison, but this time rather than singing about his own misery he turns to a girl whose “heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs.” It’s a rousing number and seems most likely to be the one song that will feature on an upcoming album. Fans who miss the battered introspection of the Frightened Rabbit of old will be sated by the EP’s second song “Boxing Night” wherein Hutchison turns his focus back to himself (or a version of himself), sitting in his underwear in a chair surrounded by empty liquor bottles, unmoving and unmotivated to get out of his squalor even if Glasgow were burning. “Just me and these walls and a beaten up chair” Hutchison sings as the acoustic guitars bounce along beneath recalling the style of their breakthrough album The Midnight Organ Fight.
Frightened Rabbit continue their faithful tug at the heartstrings as the EP progresses, but some of the alienation that is supposed to be transmitted on “Home From War” is swept up and lost in the onrushing drums, guitars and handclaps, leaving the hook of “I might never be normal again” almost meaningless, despite its catchiness. The final two tracks are slower than the rest in the collection, seemingly going for a more brooding sound. The backing vocal on “Off,” which features an effect reminiscent of something Grizzly Bear might have used on Yellow House, certainly helps to imbue the track with some of the forlorn vibe that it’s stretching for, but the final track “Wedding Gloves” does this best. This is mostly thanks to guest vocals from Arab Strap’s ever-demure Aidan Moffat, but it also leaves the band to build a kraut-like piano and drum rhythm in the background, that gently and gradually adds slashes of guitar and vocals from Hutchison into the mix building the song up into a stirring conclusion to the EP.
It’s unclear as yet whether any of these songs will make the cut for the final album. In a strange way this is a good thing because these are uniformly above the quality you might expect from Frightened Rabbit b-sides, and if these are the off-cuts from the album then we can hope for another solid release from the Scotsmen, to say the least.