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Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks

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Artist: Frightened Rabbit

Album: The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Label: FatCat

Review date: Mar. 16, 2010

No one who’s listened closely to “Sing the Greys,” off Frightened Rabbit’s 2007 debut, would question whether Scott Hutchison has a close acquaintance with depression, nor that his brother Grant’s frantic, kit-battering drumming is fueled by anger. It’s always been easy to overlook Frightened Rabbit’s dark side, focusing instead on the ragged buoyancy of their melodies, the fractious energy of their scrubby guitars. Still, it’s there. It’s always been there. So, while in some ways The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the band’s darkest, most soul-searching album yet, it’s not unprecedented. What’s new is the sense of cathartic overcoming in this third full-length. The front half of Mixed Drinks is littered with images of drowning, grave-digging and really excessive consumption of alcohol, but by its penultimate song, the triumphant “Living in Color,” you get the sense that the Hutchison brothers have turned the corner.

The lyrical darkness is masked, as always, in scruffily endearing melodies, in group shouted refrains, and explosive, guitar-and-drums outbursts. Yet also, on this third-full length, Frightened Rabbit has opted for a richer production — including strings arranged by Hauschka — that amplifies their pop crescendos and sweetens their most mordant asides. Where Sing the Greys and, to some extent, The Midnight Organ Fight, built romantic squall out of little more than a yelp and a clatter, The Winter of Mixed Drinks works in denser, more sustained textures. The band, now expanded to four with the addition of Gordon Keene, makes more elaborate use of background vocals, with almost doo-wop-ish counterpoints slipped into several of the songs.

The result is a sound that remains accessible, even sing-along worthy, as it wrestles with the most perplexing existential questions. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” (never a good idea if you intend on coming back) is almost jaunty in its bass plunking, country-rocking arrangement. Only Scott Hutchison’s cracking tenor hints at its emotional content. The lyrics to “The Loneliness and the Scream” are as stark as the title suggests. You just might not notice amid all the handclapping and climactic guitar builds.

The album pivots a little past its midway point, as the characters in the songs begin to turn away from their self-dug graves and alcohol-induced blackouts toward some sort of recovery. The catalyst, not surprisingly for this romantic band, is love.

The album’s best song, “Living in Colour,” is a steady march in 4/4 punctuated by group shouts and rattled to its core by jittery eighth-note guitar notes. The song handily ties together Frightened Rabbit’s history so far — the early struggles against disaffection, the midnight organ fight between brain and heart, and the slide into alcohol and the eventual striding out into the light. “By day I hope to rapidly die / have my organs laid on ice / wait for somebody to treat them right / but as the night started swallowing, you pulled the blood to my blue lips, forced the life to spill, filled my heart again,” sings Hutchison against an inexorable tide of scrabbling guitars. Off in the corner, somewhere, his girlfriend is painting her toes, and “Living in Colour” seems possible again.

Who needs the greys, indeed? This is Frightened Rabbit’s best so far.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Frightened Rabbit

Sing the Greys

The Midnight Organ Fight

Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

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