After Frightened Rabbit’s great 2013 album Pedestrian Verse, there was a sense that whatever came next had to be something a little different. Pedestrian Verse boasted some of the group’s best songs, and, in many ways, that release felt like a logical endpoint, the final realization of Frightened Rabbit’s initial style of emotive, anthemic, but personable Scottish indie. And, sure enough, what came next was a bit different: Frontman/primary songwriter Scott Hutchison went solo on his 2014 Owl John collection, and when he returned to Frightened Rabbit for 2016’s Painting Of A Panic Attack, he and his bandmates sought to change it up with new textures and synth flourishes, a process I saw firsthand as they worked with the National’s Aaron Dessner in 2015.
It’s a paradox and a balance: Frightened Rabbit might be Hutchison’s project, but sometimes you still need an outlet to explore different corners of your identity, to indulge songwriting interests that, perhaps, you feel don’t fit into your main project. Which brings us to Hutchison’s latest bit of extracurricular activity outside of Frightened Rabbit: Mastersystem.
The new group is once more fronted by Hutchison. It’s a new collaboration between him, his brother and Frightened Rabbit drummer Grant, and brothers Justin and James Lockey, from Editors and Minor Victories, respectively. Though the two sets of siblings go way back, the idea of Mastersystem itself dates to a muggy Berlin day in 2016. Almost two years later, they’ll release their debut album Dance Music, an album they’re positioning not as a side project but as the beginning of a new group they intend to pursue as consistently as their other bands.
Sonically, it’s more ragged than we’re used to hearing from the Lockeys, and more distorted and aggressive than what you’d typically associate with Hutchison’s songwriting in Frightened Rabbit or Owl John. It’s Hutchison bringing his poignant lyrics and particular melodic sensibility to grungier tunes, finding him digging back to the music of his youth and trying to update it for himself as he closes in on middle age.
“I thought it would be interesting to play around with the themes of restlessness and dissatisfaction on this album, both as a counterpoint to the exuberance of the music and as an obvious reference to the angst and tension I heard in the grunge and fuzz of my teenage years,” Hutchison said of Dance Music. “This is not the angst of a teenager, however. This is the anxiety of a man in his mid-30s, and for a lot of this record I found myself wrestling with the ways in which I am not quite doing life right, in spite of appearing to lead a relatively joyful, playful and artistic existence.”
Along with the announcement, Mastersystem have shared the first single from Dance Music. Entitled “Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived,” it echoes both some of the key Frightened Rabbit themes and Hutchison’s comments on Dance Music, functioning as an appropriate mission statement for the album. For the first 45 seconds or so, the track is a bit of a feint — you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a new, raw Frightened Rabbit song. From there, the song ratchets up into crashing, overdriven guitars and Hutchison finds new, aggrieved directions in which to push his vocals. It’s an intriguing introduction to a new chapter in the career of one our most overlooked songwriters, and you can check it out below.
04/25 – Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
04/26 – Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK @ The Cluny
04/27 – Glasgow, UK @ The Art School
04/28 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
04/30 – Birmingham, UK @ Birmingham O2 Institute 3
05/01 – London, UK @ Oslo
Dance Music is out 4/6 via Physical Education Recordings.