Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Not since William Wallace was declared Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland has something so notable come out of Selkirk. Frightened Rabbit, the crux of which are the brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison, has released their fantastically titled album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, a deceptively solid effort that shines while masking its intricacies. It’s full of atmospheric texture and understatedly intense rhythmic streams coming from all directions; a sonic washing and rhythmic jolt of an album that manages to scratch the surface of optimism at the very bottom when everything has gone wrong and there’s nowhere to go but up. The closer you look at one specific aspect of the album, i.e., harmony, percussion, rhythm, even in the reverberating echoes, the more complexity you find there.
One unique thread that runs throughout this album is that it paradoxically has a subdued high intensity, as often in a bass part as guitar or percussion. This feeling lends itself to the neurotically palpable sense of isolation and disconnectedness. The industrious tinkerings of soft counter-melodies on keys, the eighth note pounding of strings or delay, the hummable melodies that repeat in your head for days combine with the emotive vocal work to make for a fantastic album. Produced by Peter Katis of Guster, Spoon, Interpol, Fanfarlo, and Jonsi Birgisson fame, it’s masterfully done.
Signed to Fat Cat Records out of London and accompanying an impressive slate of artists including Animal Collective, Sigur Ros, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Jonsi, Frightened Rabbit stands in the top tier and carries their own weight. Concise and intelligent songwriting allow the distinctly Irish vocals to flourish, even if that accent can never fully escape the shadow of Echo & the Bunnymen, Kaiser Chiefs and the Pogues. After touring in 2008 with Death Cab for Cutie and 2009 with Gomez and Modest Mouse, the band’s tour schedule remains in North America for the next few months before returning overseas.
“Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is the first single and really encapsulates the theme of the album in one song. It’s the songwriting, the production, the theme of being burned and at the bottom and testing yourself to the limit in lines like “Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?” and the numbness of “All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky.” It is exactly this allusion to water that reveals a catharsis in water and a helplessness to the vastness and currents of the ocean. When peering into the textures of the album, it’s like opening the lid of a shining grand piano, sleek and stunning, to see the incredible tension wires and hammers, deciphering how it operates. It also has the ability to be missed if you aren’t paying attention, like code words between potential spies looking to verify a contact. As for Scotland, the most recent thing to come out of Selkirk is no longer the ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.