Sound — 8
Thanks to Frightened Rabbit's last release The Midnight Organ Flight, which was called everything from poignant to utterly fantastic by a myriad of critics, the Scottish indie rock band already had plenty of buzz swirling around and the hype is likely to continue. Frightened Rabbit's latest endeavor The Winter of Mixed Drinks has taken the musical building blocks found on earlier material and upped the ante with bolder arrangements. At the heart of it all is vocalist Scott Hutchison's ornate and insanely creative vocal layering, which often become the centerpiece for the 11 tracks on the new record.
Frightened Rabbit possesses this unique ability to seamlessly combine an older style with a highly technical studio sound. The core songwriting, when stripped down, could easily sound like melodies passed down from generation to generation of Scottish musicians. On the other hand, the production value transcends from you might expect to hear from an indie rock band much less any musician recording standards from days gone by. Through it all, you get the sense that this is one band that still would feel at home playing at an intimate pub.
The opening song Things doesn't hesitate in throwing a whole bunch of guitar effects which create a mood, not necessarily a melody that lead up to the accessible, yet passionate delivery of Scott Hutchison. The next few minutes does build in tempo, and in a way the song reaches a crescendo every single time Hutchinson belts, I didn't need these things. In the final moments the band creatively strips layer by layer away and there are quite a few leaving only a lone acoustic. It's seemingly little moments like that one that actually have a massive impression on the listener, particularly after hearing so many little nuances during the verse and chorus.
The comparisons you could make to Frightened Rabbit are many, from Snow Patrol to The Shins to Big Country to U2 to The Alarm all being possibilities. That's not to say that this is a band that can't stand on its own. It's true that The Edge might utilize plenty of delay, but guitarist Billy Kennedy and the other bandmates in Frightened Rabbit aren't afraid to let their effects take center stage for the better part of the first and last sections of the song. Skip The Youth is a standout example of this arrangement, but the CD is full of moments where new musical layers or textures are introduced out of nowhere. It never breaks the cohesive nature of the songs, and in a way that extreme experimentation is what truly sets Frightened Rabbit apart from their peers.
Lyrics — 8
There is a highly personal, familiar nature to the lyrical content on The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Whether it's the introspective The Loneliness and The Scream (Oh the loneliness and the scream; To prove to everyone that I exist) or the grand-yet-still-personal quality of Swim Until You Can't See Land (We salute at the threshold of the North Sea; In My Mind; And a nod to the boredom that drove me here; To face the tide and swim), there is a humanity present within each of the tracks. These are relatable songs that don't try to be overly poetic, and that is an apt fit for Hutchison's earthy vocal style.
Overall Impression — 8
The terms indie rock is thrown around a lot, and in a way that's a convenient niche to place a band like Frightened Rabbit but it doesn't always quite fit. A song like Yes, I Would includes a bit more guitar gain than in other tracks, but it's still an incredibly mellow offering that leans heavily toward a folk style. Hutchison is a master at creating an abundance of vocal layers within the course of the song (each section having a very distinct identity and not necessarily relating to one another), while the instrumentation in many ways follows suit. There are times when Frightened Rabbit suffers from being lyrically repetitive (Snow Patrol have problems in this area), but in general The Winter of Mixed Drinks provides a complex, laid-back, and highly palatable listening experience.