First Listen: Frightened Rabbit’s “Fields of Wheat”

Bklyn Steel

After wrapping up a U.S. tour, the members of Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit have been sequestered in a house south of Galveston, Texas, writing and recording roughs for a new album. Last night, they shared a song and posted a photo of the handwritten lyrics, with scratched-out phrases and all. It’s an arrival without the usual major-label social media arm-waving. And it’s altogether fitting that an expression of such aching beauty should enter this way on a Saturday morning, as if a friend slipped an unmarked CD under your dorm room door.

“This isn’t about me. It’s about the avenues, crescents, streets, and lanes we’ve not been to — windows we don’t peek through” Scott Hutchison ruminates in “Fields of Wheat.” The track — a bedroom confessional in the vein of Elliott Smith or Jose Gonzalez — is framed by a finger-picked meditation on acoustic guitar (Simon Liddell) and overlaid with touches of gauzy organ (Andy Monaghan). The latter builds to a not-quite-dissonant fuzz two-thirds of the way through — just enough to color the mood a few shades darker.

“Fields of Wheat” strips away the sweaty, sweary bombast of a Frightened Rabbit concert to reveal the persistent, oft-hidden anxieties of modern life. It’s a reminder that behind the major-label fixtures, masterful studio production, and festival stages, is a bunch of boys barely out of their 20s, pushing bodies and psyches to the limit to bring these songs to life, to capture honest sentiments in tumultuous times.

As outsiders, we can’t know the personal narratives behind the music embedded in our collective unconscious. But we can imagine. And I envision a series of liminal spaces — between city and ocean, dusk and dawn, an American administration careening out of control and a UK climate of mutiny against an attempted Tory chokehold.

There’s a certain melancholy here that reflects not so much regret, as the process of reckoning — an accounting of where we stand after the adrenaline of the road wears off and the longing for home re-enters. It’s fragile, but not frail. And it’s a lovely way to start your weekend.

Connect with Frightened Rabbit on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Pick up their latest album, Painting of a Panic Attack, here.

Roots & Routes: Vandaveer

A photo essay of a band on the road.

The hugs goodbye always last a little longer than the hugs we share in greeting.

One a.m. finds us on a quiet, tree-lined street in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC. Vandaveer has just finished a run of east coast shows with a gig at Gypsy Sally’s. Frontman Mark Charles Heidinger pulls the van — crammed full of guitars, drums, keyboard, pedals, merch, and luggage — up to the home of a longtime friend with whom the band will be spending the night.

A cab is waiting to take me to Union Station, where I will board a three a.m. train back to New York City. Too tired to find the right words, I try to convey my gratitude in the embraces we exchange. Then I conduct the requisite check: backpack, camera bag, phone, wallet, ID.

I will never quite understand how bands don’t leave a trail of items behind as they criss-cross the country. Or maybe they do. Hansel & Gretel breadcrumbs of touring, to find their way back to the start.


I get into the cab. As we pull away, I gaze back to see Mark and Tom ascending the steps. Their last night away from home for a while.

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“Light”: Haunting, hazy folk from Jon Bryant

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Leap days are in-between spaces, and it’s fitting timing for the release of a new album from Canadian folk artist Jon Bryant. Both lyrically and sonically, Twenty Something explores that liminal space between what is known and comfortable and what is in the hazy beyond.

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On Nina Simone and noir: A chat with The Duchess and The Fox

This is a story of the chance encounter behind the seductively stormy ballads of The Duchess and The Fox.

On a balmy summer night, Andrea Diaz (of Superhuman Happiness) wends her way home from rehearsal and stops by Manhattan Inn. Joe McGinty, former keyboardist for Psychedelic Furs and session musician for the Ramones and Ryan Adams (among others), is hosting live piano karaoke.

Andrea requests a Nina Simone song. Joe plays; Andrea sings. Then she slips out without a word, leaving only a scrap of paper with her contact information.

That exchange was the genesis of The Duchess and The Fox. From the midsummer meeting came a collection of modern noir ballads, with inspirations ranging from Burt Bacharach and Lee Hazlewood to the aforementioned Nina Simone and Scott Walker.

Last night, The Duchess and The Fox hosted a record release party in the most fitting of spaces — the dim, speakeasy-invoking Red Room in downtown Manhattan.

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After Dark: A chat with Wray

“Hypatia,” the title track from Wray’s sophomore album, feels alien, yet organic; dreamy, but defined.

The band’s use of gauzy layers of distortion and motorik/ostinato rhythms draws comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and Neu! To my ear, there’s something about the southern roots of this trio that lends muscle and sinew to the spun-glass textures associated with dream pop and shoegaze. But don’t take it from me — Wray has caught the ears of critics at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (paywall).

The percussion in Wray’s songs leans inexorably forward without disrupting the ethereal mood. The resulting ambience reminds me of a time-lapse video where city night lights, viewed from above, take on the appearance of electronic circuitry or perhaps some complex organism, its arteries pulsing.

W1I recently saw the Birmingham band — David Brown (bass, vocals), Blake Wimberly (percussion), and David Swatzell (guitar, vocals) — perform at The Gutter in Brooklyn.

Afterward, David B. and Blake answered some questions by email. Topics include: visual effects used at shows, road snacks, and favorite books. (Spoiler alert: Blake names After Dark as a fave. I love Murakami and I think Wray’s music complements the Japanese novelist’s semi-lucid dreamscapes with their unresolved contradictions.)

I asked them the silliest question I’ve ever posed to a band: Which astrophysicist would prevail in an arm-wrestling tournament? Their answers are sublime. The interview & Wray’s upcoming tour dates are after the jump.

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