Welcome to Frightened Rabbit 2.0. This incarnation has echoes of their past but is something so much bigger. With a lineup expanded to a fifth member and a lyrical focus on the positives borne of testing times rather than heartbreak, the predominant theme of their last album The Midnight Organ Fight, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a more confident statement.
The Scottish lads have removed the harshest parts of the idiosyncratic sound that defined them previously. On The Winter of Mixed Drinks these creases are largely ironed out. Vocally, Scott Hutchinson is aiming himself less inward. He’s challenging himself against the backdrop, aiming at the sky and the world in general. He sounds less fragile, more resolved, more content and the music is his pick me up.
Musically, Frightened Rabbit have inflated their arrangements. A lot of the album sounds like it could comfort and support a large creature in freefall, such is its all-encompassing widescreen feel complete with strings by label bedfellow Hauschka on occasion.
Elsewhere, it’s big echoing pianos, reverbed guitars, and long sustained bass notes. The drums are largely rudimentary in that they play the part of a call to arms, a ‘stand up and be counted’ backbone to Scott Hutchinson’s vocals. Much of it sounds like large planks of wood dropping to the floor, a beautifully elemental sound coaxed out of the recordings by producer Peter Katis.
Stand-out track ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ is an epic sing-along single which deserves to be near the top of songs of 2010 lists everywhere with its rousing ‘Are you a man or a bag of sand’ chorus. ‘The Loneliness And The Scream’ and ‘Nothing Like You’ in particular are big anthemic songs with a true emotional heart at their core and much of the album follows this template.
‘Skip The Youth’ has an ambient intro that would be home to Constellation Records stalwarts Thee Silver Mount Zion before a cute song complete with ‘ooh ooh’ backing vocals reveals itself while ‘Living in Colour’ is a blast of melody, those aforementioned big plank-esque drums and enlivened vocals.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks is consistently thrilling and triumphant. Cynicals may suggest it’s a calculated effort at Arcade Fire-esque grandeur but really, it sounds like a natural progression and is a successful amplification of their previous template in clearer focus.