French for Rabbits – The Overflow: Album Review

French for Rabbits made an appearance at the Auckland Arts Festival back in March and band leader Brooke Singer made a comment that was at once humorous and insightful: “Excuse us being a bit awkward. We’re a band of introverts.”

The Overflow, their third album, is a glorious celebration of that introvert disposition. Its tracks manage to navigate a fine line between reaching deep within the human heart, embracing insecurities on the one hand and, on the other, letting them ride out into the world on the backs of accessible melodies.

French for RabbitsAfter the Rabbits’ earlier mysticism (eg., Goat), low-key environmental activism (eg, The Other Side), and coastal sensibility (eg, Claimed by the Sea), this set of songs has a more personal tone. The constant is their ‘dream pop’ sensibility.

The band includes John Fitzgerald’s delicate guitar, Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa’s subtle drums and Ben Lemi and Penelope Esplin’s various instruments and harmonies. Together, they join Brooke Singer in offering a singular musical voice.

The ten songs in this cycle are their most accessible yet. That such fragility as “Leave me alone with a book in my room/ I’ll find myself there” (The Outsider) is anything but maudlin is testament to the ‘introvert pride’ in Singer’s song writing and the textural beauty offered by the band that surrounds her.

A number of singles have been in circulation recently including: the title track The Overflow (drawing on the metaphor of flowing feelings), Ouija Board (check out the stunning video on Youtube) and The Outsider (What lyric anywhere includes cubic zirconia?). Most recently Walk the Desert, offers further celebration of the introvert spirit (“Always be the one who says I’m fine/ rather walk the desert home.”)

The album’s tracks all have depth, charm and sparkle. Personal favourites are Poetry Girl and Money or the Bag whose title a certain invokes kiwiana nostalgia. All the songs feature a remarkable sympathy between the subtle mastery of instrumentation and Singer’s almost other-worldly vocals.

French for Rabbits

With this release, French for Rabbits have stayed inside and offered us a landscape of the soul rather than the land and sea. The stability of their five-strong membership is strongly apparent. ‘Dream pop’? Maybe. Labels are both necessary and constraining. To me, they occupy a genre of their own: fragile yet formidable.

Periods of lockdown this year have enforced a certain interiority on us all in various ways. Perhaps its coincidence, but The Overflow seems fitting for this year of being more housebound than usual. It celebrates introversion in a world that demands we get ‘out there’ and front up. Its songs honour the moments when those who are naturally reserved risk being cast as the ‘outsider’. And, with stunning musicality, it unreservedly offers us French for Rabbits’ luminous creativity.

Robin Kearns