The moody depth of Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 album Midnight Organ Fight still resonates today, and the appreciation of every album since has been weighted by nostalgia for that breakout record. Despite a series of successful and critically acclaimed follow-ups, nothing quite reached the bar set by the simplicity of “Keep Yourself Warm” or the self-deprecating innocence behind “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.” In 2014, a hiatus saw the release of a stripped down record under the name Owl John, apparently born of a disillusion with touring and the recent departure of guitar player and keyboardist Gordon Skene. Despite these challenges, Frightened Rabbit’s new album, Painting of a Panic Attack, is worth the wait. One hopes that it was worth the challenges the band has had to overcome.

The album opens with a strong return to form that announces that the band has officially stepped up its game. “Death Dream,” the most stripped down and moving song on the album, is soaked in the same sort of beautiful melody and melancholic sincerity that made “Keep Yourself Warm” so memorable.

“Get Out” is an unexpected nod to ‘80s new wave. The hook has a shimmering psychedelic feel that fits awkwardly next to Scott Hutchison’s heavily inflected warble through the rest of the album. With the possible exception of label-mates Where is my Jetpack, Hutchison may be the only Scottish pop-rock vocalist on popular radio, something you may not realize until you hear him embrace his Royal Burge of Selkirk wholeheartedly. While his accent may sound ordinary to his mates, home, it has an added charm for North American audiences.

The album features a generous 15 tracks whose instrumentation and production rings with a certain ghostly distance. It’s the same shimmer that casts a dark shadow on The National’s Boxer, and there’s a reason for this. The National’s Aaron Dessner produced Painting, and that signature sound – slamming percussion, glistening guitar lines and layered vocals – helps make this some of Frightened Rabbit’s best work.

However, there can be too much of a good thing. On “Woke up Hurting” and “Little Drum,” the album’s common tone and approach comes across as monotonous. Tracks like these slip by unnoticed on an album that is front-loaded with its strongest melodies.

The music video for the album’s first single, “Die Like a Rich Boy,” features Hutchison alone in a large empty room with nothing other than his acoustic guitar. It’s not the same recording that appears on the album, but it illustrates the ease and passion with which he delivers this material. While the video version is stripped down and painful, the album version soars and yet manages to hit the same emotional notes.

Painting of a Panic Attack is the return to form that fans of Frightened Rabbit have been hoping for ever since Midnight Organ Fight. It’s strong enough to win over new audiences, too. Listeners may well find something to love in “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” or the meandering “400 Bones” — if they ever get that far on the record. It’s more likely that they’ll light a candle in the middle of the night, and watch its glow dance across the walls while listening to “Death Dream” on repeat.

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