The Scottish outfit Frightened Rabbit caught a mess of critical praise with their 2008 sophomore release, The Midnight Organ Fight. The Hutchison brothers, Scott (singer, guitarist and lyricist) and Grant (drummer, percussionist), packed the record with vibrant, raw emotion. The immediate live feel and sharp lyrics made Frightened Rabbit a band to take notice of. But Frightened Rabbit's frontman Scott Hutchison wasn't pleased about what drew many to the band and their sound. He expressed displeasure with The Midnight Organ Fight, saying it felt rushed.
"There was something I regretted about the way it was recorded, sonically, that I didn't want to happen again," said Hutchison in a 2009 interview with Pop Cop. "I didn't make the album I wanted to last time. I had to exorcise that feeling."
The band's third release, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, recorded mostly at Castlesound Studio in Scotland, displays a marked difference production-wise from its predecessor. The record is more layered with instrumentalists Billy Kennedy and Andy Monaghan contributing to a dense "wall-of-sound." But this approach results in mixed, and at times, muddled results. This is especially true for the middle segment of the album. One could easily glide over the intricacies of a song like "Foot Shooter" standing alongside "Not Miserable," which bears a similar sonic mark.
Scott's gift for the woeful lyric and rolling melody remain intact. Whereas The Midnight Organ Fight was about a break-up, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is about a break-down and, finally, solitude. The elegant "Swim Until You Can't See Land" juxtaposes the desperate lyrics of its narrator with an upbeat, hopeful instrumentation. It's one of the things that Frightened Rabbit does best. However, what the band is also notable for, their chunky, march-like beat, becomes too repetitive throughout the record. The pulse on a number of the songs lacks distinction to one another.
The record's closer, "Yes, I Would," may be a key. The slower, neo-hymnal organ coupled with Scott's Sigur Rós-influenced vocal feels like a true departure. Here we have a band stretching beyond its comfort zone, and, in this case they succeed. It's disappointing that Frightened Rabbit didn't fully explore this avenue for the rest of the new record.
Though there are strong songs on their third effort, The Winter of Mixed Drinks lacks the punch of the previous release, inserting a more methodical approach that may have led to over-thinking the project. The record also doesn't feel complete: The album runs a wee short (eight songs that combine to just over 30 minutes). For the next round, perhaps a wee more attention might be given to the songs and mixing up pace and rhythms, otherwise the drinks start to get stale.