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Frightened Rabbit

The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Label: Fat Cat Records

Frightened Rabbit’s sophomore album, The Midnight Organ Fight, was a gorgeously frustration-fueled concoction of “fuck you”s and “I miss you”s, often echoed in the same brutally frank lyrics. High praise was given to the Selkirk, Scotland act, but they were spared the lofty expectations that were bestowed on many of their contemporaries, likely due to the band’s vaguely familiar indie rock-bar band sound. While they haven’t quite hit a home run with their follow-up, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, it shows that Frightened Rabbit does have the stamina to convey a different state of mind within the same sound and run with it successfully.

Mixed Drinks begins with similarly droning guitars and organs preceding the introduction of Hutchison’s unique and boozy, half-melodic rambling, one that sounds surer of itself after each spin. With a slightly less interesting intonation though, the melodic shifts in the chorus of “Things” could bring to mind Fall Out Boy, and unfortunately, Hutchison’s timbre and pace become slightly too familiar by album’s end, causing a later and lesser song like “Not Miserable” to come off as minor self-mimicry. Thematically, Hutchison seems to have put any love/sex angst left over from Organ Fight further back in his mind. The urgency and intensity is just as evident here as it is on its predecessor, but it’s honed in on the euphoric feeling directly after all of the baggage from that last relationship is tossed overboard.

The aggressive and increasingly optimistic forward movement on first single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” fits Hutchison’s stated theme of “pushing yourself out to the edge of things” and “losing your mind in order to reset the mind and body” to a T; the aura here is dangerous, liberating, and full of casual thrills. Its low-key reprisal five songs later, titled “Man/Bag of Sand,” is brief enough to work as a pleasant reminder of their aural and visceral goals here. Little touches like the percussive twitches popping in and out and the backing chorus of “oohs” and “ahhs” keep the tune afloat. Like the best of recent simplistic (and repetitive) pop hits like “Two Weeks” and “Young Folks,” to name a few, it goes mostly where you think it’s going, but throws in enough subtle curveballs to stay appealing for four and a half minutes and stays fresh upon repeated listens

One of the most impressive points of restraint Frightened Rabbit deserves credit for is avoiding that moment in nearly every song when 95% of similar bands would kick in to the second verse with a thieved new wave drumbeat; Frightened Rabbit instead will insert the frantic strum of an acoustic guitar, such as on “The Loneliness and the Scream,” or a hovering piano line, furthering the sense of risk and hope for a joyous light at the end of the tunnel. The album’s clear centerpiece is “Skip the Youth,” with a noise-draped intro leading to piano plinks and a constant build-up that listeners who made it this far should be well accustomed to. It all culminates in a cataclysmic pay-off of crashing drums and guitar drone, the type that doesn’t rise to the surface quite as often as it should on Mixed Drinks.

A few songs, such as “Nothing Like You,” work as quick fixes of energy but focus more on the adrenaline-fueled angle of the album’s theme rather than the redemptive one. But things come to a head fittingly with closer “Yes, I Would,” which blends several of Mixed Drinks‘ most familiar ingredients – swirling sustained organ, lightly schizophrenic percussion and a dreamlike variety of voices high and low, fading in out of the forefront – into the kind of conclusion that the band swam towards throughout the album. Within the bigger picture, Frightened Rabbit needs to swim just a little bit further, though they’re awfully close.

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