While there are distinct and obvious similarities between Scott Hutchison's project Owl John and his full band Frightened Rabbit -- the folkish indie rock, warm vocals, and reverbed crunchy guitars all present -- there is also purpose to the fragile honesty that manages to root itself into each lyric on his debut solo effort. There are also plentiful signs of Hutchison expanding his musical boundaries here, delving into an array of atmospheric, electronic influences while also trying his hand at a gritty bluesy riff or two on what is a varying record. The advent of Owl John doesn't spell the end for Frightened Rabbit by any means, but it instead allowed Hutchison the freedom to explore his songwriting in a more creative way while his bandmates took time off following their successful fourth album, 2013's Pedestrian Verse. The opening guitar line of "Hate Music" is the first real taste of one of the directions taken on this record, starting with a gritty riff that wouldn't sound particularly out of place on a Jack White track, while the rest of the song takes on a thumping, darkened character that befits its hostile title and atmosphere. While other songs are softer in approach, "Los Angeles, Be Kind" is a gentle mixture of harmonious vocals and layered instrumentation, and "A Good Reason to Grow Old" rises softly from picked guitar and steady piano into rolling drums and a beautifully restrained string arrangement. What's not so evident throughout is that this album was written and recorded in just two weeks, yet it is a cohesive collection that takes on the gloomy, detached character of its desolate surroundings. The accompanying backing vocals to the likes of "Ten Tons of Silence" feel particularly uneasy, especially once the throbbing synths take hold of its pulsating climax. Without the constraints of a band, Hutchison has embarked on a cathartic, confessional journey here, while writing material that is as blunt in its honesty as it is in his own self-deprecation. Despite being only a side project, the sheer quality and array of styles found on Owl John's self-titled debut is testament to the prolific songwriting skills of Scott Hutchison.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Scott Kerr