Three Stars

New Zealand duo French for Rabbits return this year with their new album Spirit. As the title might suggest, it’s a pretty ethereal affair, an album full of gently melancholic minor chords and indulgently wistful vocals. While it certainly makes for some very laid back and atmospheric listening, unfortunately it’s an album with little originality or distinction.

French For Rabbits are a very elusive group, or at least they certainly wish to appear so. Should you want to make contact with them, their website will direct you to a page entitled “commune”, or indeed should you want to find out what they’re up to, their news page is called “oracle”. This airy aloofness may however be their greatest asset as artists and performers.

What we do know about French for Rabbits is that they are comprised of vocalist Brooke Singer and instrumentalist John Fitzgerald.

Singer is very talented and thoughtful. Her expressive range is particularly interesting — her voice can vary from sensual and intimate to gently unhinged with impressive ease. Lyrically it is often hard to make out what she is singing, but the few words that I can make out speak of obligatory heartbreak, sadnessand betrayal. To her credit it is very difficult to describe her sound by comparing her to other singers, but something akin to Florence Welch’s Lungs period seems about right.

Her counterpart Fitzgerald is a highly versatile instrumentalist in the number of sounds he combines. Where he really shines is as a guitarist though. The tone of his sound is very smooth yet distinct and you can definitely seethe influence of bands like The xx in some of his arrangements, with the hypnotically looping single notes as background to the vocal spectacle. Chromatics is also a good point of reference here in the general tone and sound that comes across.

All of this sounds great on paper, The xx-cum-Florence and the Machine-cum-Chromatics with a floaty folk twist. The trouble is that the actual result is just a little underwhelming. Put it like this, it went well as an accompaniment to an essay crisis: gentle, inoffensive but ultimately not all that interesting.

Justified or not, the group do seem to take themselves quite seriously. No doubt as their range develops their image and style will amass a following who will cherish Spirits as a tragically underrated early classic. But I think for the rest of us, it just makes for a mellow autumnal afternoon listen.