Album Reviews

Chad W. Lutz

The Winter of Mixed Drinks delivers a sound so uncommon, and so rare, that it might as well be from another planet.

Let’s face it; times have been tough. The world economy is shaky, the world appears to be at war, earthquakes and tsunamis seem to happen every other second, political unrest is abound, and celebrities are so excessive I’m beginning to think the atmosphere might not be a high enough ceiling for their expanding egos. The only thing that could make this boat called reality float any stranger is probably nothing short of an alien invasion. So, when I saw the title of the new Frightened Rabbit album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, first thing I thought to myself was, “Ya, I could use one right about now.”

Following on the heels of their critically acclaimed The Midnight Organ Flight (2008) comes the hopeful, and possibly lamenting The Winter of Mixed Drinks released March 1st on the Scottish label, Fat Cat Records. The band comprised of Scott Hutchison (guitar/vocals), Grant Hutchison (drums/percussion/backing vocals), Billy Kennedy (lead guitar/bass/keyboards, backing vocals), Andy Monaghan (guitar, keyboards, backing vokes), and Gordon Skene (guitar/keyboards/and more backing vocals), take their third stab at the international eye with catchy hooks and enough styles and genres showing up on one LP they could fill up the plaid patches on a kilt.

From the light and breezy to thundering Celtic ballads, The Winter of Mixed Drinks delivers a sound so uncommon, and so rare, that it might as well be from another planet. The three quarters of an hour long album highlights the band’s ultimate diversity in style, song, and lyrical know-how. Tracks like “Things” and “Skip The Youth” begin slowly and build, peaking at a crescendo and seamlessly sweeping into echoing lyrics amidst a frantic chaos of guitar.

The band that hails from Selkirk seems to be making a political statement with this album and possibly a social one as well. The under the sea ballad of “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and “Man/Bag of Sand,” which reprises the lyrics from “Swim,” suggest a world that has swam out past the point of no return. And even the names of the songs suggest lament, and maybe even regret. “Man/Bag” seems like a bad pun (only because it’s true), as the song starts out with a 1950s public service announcement-sounding voice booming, “I’m right in the middle of this thriving highway,” immediately after, “Your existing race.” They almost seem to be calling out humanity, “Are you a man,” or, “are you a bag of sand?” This theme of hope washed out to sea is found again on the existential “The Loneliness and The Scream” with the lyrics “The loneliness, and the screams to prove that I exist.”

The album features hardly any distortion and is mostly percussion driven, with the drums thundering like they’re cueing bagpipes. Wailing, Celtic cries comprise the, at times, dissonant vocals with a heavy dose of call and response stirred into the musical mixture. Though there seems to be definite conceptual direction, the album grows stagnant as it progresses, and the wailing almost goes from novel to annoying. After awhile, you begin to think you’re listening to a Scottish Kings Of Leon without the heavy bass. But that’s not to take away from the album, as it can definitely stand-alone.

But, as you listen to the last song, “Yes, I Would,” you’re reminded again of their diversity as another extraterrestrial time signature is pounded out on the drumheads leading the whimsical and airy guitar and vocals. And that got me thinking about the name of the album again, and the whole thing in general. It’s a lyrical gem of political and social clout that breaks the stymied monotony of popular music and pushes the envelope of what might be coming next (if only from our UK invaders). And after listening to the whole thing from birth to death, I can’t help but ask myself if I’d still like another drink to shake off the winter blues. And the answer? Yes, I would.