“These will not be Frightened Rabbit songs. These will be John’s songs.” When a band starts off as a solo project like Frightened Rabbit did back in 2003 there has to be part of them that wants to try it out alone again and that’s exactly what frontman Scott Hutchison has done. Under the new alias Owl John, he’s gone back to his roots to release an eponymous debut LP so much more murky and raw than even the biggest Frightened Rabbit fan would expect.
With its fuzzy, ominous opening, ‘Cold Creeps’ keeps in tune with the fateful title by letting little slip. There’s no rush to get things going as the track is overrun with a sluggish drum line, ethereal vocals and reserved melodies. First unwilling to get going, ‘Two’ steps up the tempo a little with a foot-tap-inducing rhythms and chirpier vocals.
Bluesy ‘Hate Music’ is far from Frightened Rabbit’s folk-rock – “it’s about finding a bit of freedom in an anxious, rotting brain” says Hutchison. His two weeks spent dedicated to writing and recording in the Isle of Mull has let lose to a darker and edgier side of him which follows on into ‘Sounds About Roses’. The melancholic croons of the repetitive line “we don’t need songs about roses” accompanied with minimal acoustics and percussion takes everything back to basics.
An ode to LA, the second home of the album, follows in ‘Los Angeles, Be Kind’. A calm chord progression opposes the sharp accompanying beat which resembles an oven timer alarm – the composed, unflustered approach contradicts Hutchison’s apparent worry and angst. Echoing acoustics in ‘Ten Tons Of Silence’ harmonise with the churchly vocals which goes on into ‘Good Reason to Grow Old’ but with the latter taking an a slightly punchier approach with the stamping of drums.
‘Red Hand’ quickens the tempo a bit with a more poppy feel thanks to the reintroduction of electrics and cheery riffs – it doesn’t hesitate in making you want to get you up and move along. First hesitant to carry on the upbeat tone, ‘Don’t Take Off The Gloves’ acts as the anthemic track with the ‘oohs’ and ‘heys’ overlapping the shimmering, delayed guitars and not to forget the hand claps. Ending on ‘Stupid Boy’, the keys intro keeps the tone slightly sombre along with Hutchison’s line “how can I come to be such a stupid boy, how can I be ever be what you’re looking for” which alludes back to Frightened Rabbit’s tales of heartbreak.
“John is a homeless. John is a priest. John is a witness. John is a beast.” John seems to want to be everything but the album keeps in line with John’s want to be different and unexpected. The plan for Owl John was to step out of Frightened Rabbit’s shadow and with a more authoritative and raw sound, he’s completely done it.