Owl John – Owl John
‘Owl John’ is the pseudonym of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, always known to us as one of the most personal writers on the indie scene. While the Rabbits scaled the highs of big shows and bigger sounds, something of the personal confessional from the pen of the tortured Scottish poet got lost along the way and so, approaching breakdown point, Scott relocated himself in Los Angeles via a two week recording period on the Isle of Mull alongside Simon Liddell and Frightened Rabbit companion Andy Monaghan where some tunes were laid down and feelings laid bare.
Opening with the feisty ’Cold Creeps’ it’s instantly not a Frightened Rabbit record. Sonically in places we’re only as far as Mull is from the Scottish heartlands but the poetry, pain and anguish is that of a world weary man escaping to a further flung west coast.
Tracks like ’Two’ and ’Red Hand’ bear the hallmarks of Hutchinson’s former incarnations, the former only a Gil Scott Heron style spoken word interlude away from being something that would have nestled easily into last year’s ’Pedestrian Verse’. ’Red Hand’ is more guitar laden than the other offerings from Owl John and suffers by sounding a little dated. The jangly guitars sound like a darker Suede or ’Monster’ era REM. Melodically it sways dangerously close to 90s earworm Monaco’s What Do You Want From Me’.
The main sway and swagger throughout is that of the restless Scot, or Scott if you will. Deeply personal, bitter and twisted… even from the man responsible for the vitriolically beautiful ’Poke’, this is a record birthed in America. As Hutchinson’s honest, dulcet tones proclaim “the smut won’t wash from this unsuitable immigrant’s skin” on ’Los Angeles, Be Kind’, it’s a tentative welcome to American ways of life but one that still whiffs of late night chips and cheese and Buckfast stained hearts. Geographically we’ve come a long way but ’Hate Music’ is brooding blues, the misery of being enveloped in the pissing rain of The Hebrides and ’Songs About Roses’ sounds like a tender ballad but one full of face punches, funerals and chloroformed singers. It’s not easy listening but Hutchinson doesn’t mind this being a record for people who hated Frightened Rabbit.
Nobody cares if we never hear another song about roses again.
Songs About Roses’
All in all, this is a record that needs to be absorbed on a gloomy autumnal day, ideally with a stiff drink. The stark orchestration, stuttering synths and beds of warbling guitar effects serve as a base for the dour, self-deprecating melancholy that abounds on the likes of ’Ten Tons of Silence’ and ’Don’t Take Off The Gloves’ while ’A Good Reason To Grow Old’ offers a moment of light relief in the sense that as miserable as life can get, there’s always going to be a catchy hook penned to sing along and lose yourself to – maybe not in LA but wherever you are and whatever band you sing along with.