March 14, 2010

Review: Frightened Rabbit | The Winter Of Mixed Drinks [MP3]

Selkirk, Scotland-based indie goliaths Frightened Rabbit's third full-length ("moving-on record") gracefully extends the themes of the band's widely lauded [including here] sophomore opus The Midnight Organ Fight ("break-up record"). But the broader context of the band's recordings and live appearances underscores that the Frightened Rabbit of today is a vastly different varmint than the one we first encountered more than three years ago. The Winter Of Mixed Drinks completes the band's incremental evolution from indie rock band -- with the emphasis on "indie" -- to a pop band. How you feel about the quintet discarding most of the darkness and aggression of its earlier work and lushly orchestrating the new, arena-scaled anthems on the recently released third full-length may slant your feelings about how the beloved act has changed during the last seven years. But by any measure, even long-time fans will find The Winter Of Mixed Drinks to be a remarkable collection.

We readily admit that we miss the old days, when Frightened Rabbit was so tightly wrapped in the sweaty sheets shrouding the dead romance plaguing fronter Scott Hutchison that the band visibly throbbed with angst. The Hutchison brothers' impassioned performances during the first few Boston shows we saw appeared existentially cathartic, to the extent that second guitarist Billy Kennedy's even-keeled strumming and leads were almost comically stoic by comparison. Still, we begrudge neither the band's trajectory, nor the warm embrace it enjoys from burgeoning legions of fans. It is an unenviable task navigating the narrow stripe among the split camps of fickle fans who will just as readily damn a band for changing as they would damn them for stylistically sitting still. Frightened Rabbit succeeds by continually tinkering and experimenting, by expanding the soft boundaries of its sonic realm.

You don't have to listen hard to Mixed Drinks to hear that fronter Scott Hutchison's facility with songcraft remains impressively deft, that the songs themselves continue to be colored by a confessional tone and emotional urgency. The pop, of course, is obvious -- you've surely already heard the uptempo strummer "Nothing Like You." But from the shimmering tremelo curtain that reveals the opening, spine-tingling anthem "Things" to the handclaps and saxophone that ushers out the stirring album closer "Yes I Would," Hutchison's increasingly ambitious arrangements are more crisply realized, more densely rendered on The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. The aforementioned "Things" is so layered with vocal harmonies one hears more voices the harder one listens. "The Wrestle" features orchestration and production so skillfully arranged that a listener feels like he could dive into it, swim straight down, and never reach the bottom. "Skip The Youth" doesn't end so much as it dramatically decomposes like some kind of Victorian-era mechanical man. FR's prior full-lengths both touted notable interstitial song bits, and the new record is no different: "Man/Bag Of Sand" repackages pieces of "Swim Until You Can't See Land" into an ethereal, droning wonder.

Fat Cat Records issued The Winter Of Mixed Drinks March 9. The band will be in America for the annual South By Southwest confab next week, but then heads to Europe for a series of dates. Frightened Rabbit returns to the U.S. for Coachella April 17, and from there embarks on a five-week North American tour. All tour dates are listed at the band's MySpace domicile right here. Frightened Rabbit performs at Paradise Rock Club in Boston April 29.

Frightened Rabbit -- "Swim Until You Can't See Land" -- The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
[right click and save as]
[buy The Winter Of Mixed Drinks from Newbury Comics right here]

Frightened Rabbit: Internets | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Selected Prior Frightened Rabbit coverage:
FR Live at Great Scott, January 2009
FR Live at the Middle East, October 2008
FR Live at TT The Bear's, July 2008
FR Live at the Middle East, March 2008
Review: Frightened Rabbit | The Midnight Organ Fight
FR Live at Great Scott, November 2007

No comments: