[Review] Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

3 Mar


My good friend Adam has gotten into the habit of injecting Frightened Rabbit lyrics into our conversations. He does so playfully, affecting his best Scottish brogue and going for broke:

“‘Are you a mahn or are you a bag of sahnd?'”

“I’m definitely feeling like a bag of sahnd this morning. I’ll feel like a mahn once I get some coffee in me.”

As this oft-employed exercise has made clear to me, there are plenty of lyrics crafted by lead singer Scott Hutchison that when taken out of context can yield a chuckle. The band’s 2008 release The Midnight Organ Fight included such gems as “You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it” and “Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name/How did one man get so much fame?” Hutchison takes some risks in his writing, but for every cringe-worthy line, there are half a dozen winners. Wrapped in the band’s ever-expanding sound, any lyrical missteps are rendered inconsequential. Frightened Rabbit’s newest effort The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a testament to this.

If The Midnight Organ Fight was a confessional, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the entire church. Everything about this album is on a grand scale. Expressing displeasure with how The Midnight Organ Fight turned out, Hutchison was bound and determined to abandon live recording, instead focusing on painstakingly assembling the album one piece at a time. While this move may have sacrificed some of the organic feel of full-band recording that I am an unabashed fan of, this album is far from being sterile. Reverb makes one voice sound like five. Layer upon layer of instrumentation makes for an incredibly dense, intricate listening experience. This is not just your standard expansion-of-sound-via-string-section; there are chanting choirs, haunting samples from old film, synthesizer drones and processed drums. I have never been a fan of shiny production, but here studio tricks are used effectively to get the most out of the material without feeling overbearing or excessive. While it took me a few listens to warm to this significant departure from the sound of previous efforts, I found that the extra production did nothing to diminish the impact of the songs. If anything, every spin reveals more layers to dissect. To think that this is the same band responsible for 2006’s comparatively spare Sing the Greys is almost inconceivable.

Frightened Rabbit has spent seven years paying its dues, evolving from a one-man acoustic soul-baring to a five-piece dead set on conquering arenas with an enormous sound and anthemic choruses. The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the work of a band on the cusp of making it, showing extensive musical growth without sacrificing too much of the raw emotion that made the band so relatable and appealing in the first place. The question is not whether Frightened Rabbit is deserving of making that big leap forward, but rather is whether the world is ready to listen.

Listen to a stream of the album here on the NPR website.

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