Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit may wear its hearts on its sleeve, but don’t be so quick as to label the band “emo” &-&- from scrappy breakthrough album The Midnight Organ Fight to its new effort, the stadium-sized The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit can still write an indie rock anthem as powerful as those of any of its less vulnerable counterparts.
While Organ Fight was more immediately scattershot, from twangy ballad “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” to jangly pop song “Head Rolls Off;” from slow burn “Keep Yourself Warm” to danceable “The Twist” &-&- each marked by slightly different production spins &-&- Mixed Drinks may sound somewhat homogenous on first listen. Singer Scott Hutchison’s voice is multi-tracked on many of the songs, giving the whole album a more harmonious, booming sound.
Mixed Drinks is more nuanced and layered than anything Frightened Rabbit has done previously. Although the lead singles &-&- escape anthem “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and the galloping pop of “Nothing Like You” &-&- are among the more accessible songs, the gems reveal themselves only after a few listens to the whole album.
Hutchison has described Mixed Drinks as “more of a storytelling record,” semi-fictional and with an outline of a story arc. “The Loneliness and the Scream” details the protagonist getting lost in a forest and screaming “to prove to everyone that [he] exists” in two parts, the second climaxing with a roaring vocal melody burying Hutchison’s lyrics in the mix. “Skip the Youth” is given the “epic” treatment, clocking in at over six minutes with an intro that adds drums, guitars, samples and synthesizers as it builds, then barrels out of a moving verse with a chorus of “Skip the youth, it’s aging me too much.”
The album’s second half is packed with memorable tunes as well: the piano loop-based “Not Miserable” describes a post-rock bottom state, with a hook of “I am not miserable now” suggesting melancholic hope, but “Living in Colour” is Frightened Rabbit at its most triumphant, with snatches of strings in the corners of the arrangement as Hutchison harmonizes with himself through verse and chorus, creating a vivid and almost restorative effect as he finds a savior for his protagonist.
Frightened Rabbit is particularly notable for its live show: Scott Hutchison and his brother, drummer Grant Hutchison, are always energetic, and Scott’s wounded but melodic yelp backed by Grant’s rabid sense of rhythm create for a truly dynamic set. The band can’t replicate every studio effect live, so half the fun of the show should be seeing what they do with arrangements to fill in the holes. Scott is also one of the most gracious front men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and his appreciation for his fans makes the genuine attitude of the music even more believable.