Review Summary: While the output isn't nearly as bare or scruffy as Organ Fight, it's still rich on beautiful melodies. The bands charm remains their ability to effortlessly mix dark and insightful lyrics with wonderfully uplifting music.
By the time Scott Hutchison had lay down his finishing touches on 2008's The Midnight Organ Fight
, the vocalist-guitarist-songwriter was left emotionally drained. Such was the melancholy of his work, it took the frontman a month before he was even able to listen back. It's understandable too; the albums raw honesty and fragile delivery, deep from the soul of a man truly heartbroken, was delivered with such conviction it simply set the record apart. Two years on, and with Hutchison a mended man, the Scottish quintet from Selkirk are back with the follow up.
Such was the brilliance of its predecessor; The Winter of Mixed Drinks
was always going to find itself in a difficult position to match expectations. Most signifigantly, Hutchison is no longer the ailing spirit who wrote Organ Fight
. His latest lyrics find a man turning a corner and making a fresh start. It's rewarding to know then, that the album is as natural of a successor that one could have hoped for; this is the next chapter of the narrative and a logical record for the band to make.
Musically, Mixed Drinks
is certainly of a grander scale. While the obvious folk undertones remain, the sound is now one of densely layered textures and unblemished glaze. To join the elegant guitars and keys, is newly imbeded string and brass instrument sections. So, while the output isn't nearly as bare or scruffy as Organ Fight
, it's still rich on beautiful melodies. The bands charm remains their ability to effortlessly mix dark and insightful lyrics with wonderfully uplifting music.
Opener, "Things" treads on new ground for the Scotsmen, drenching itself with fuzzy guitar reverb, its softy backed with baroque keyboards and building percussion. "The Loneliness and the Scream" is an anthemic burst of optimism, with marching drums and ringing guitars. While "The Wrestle" has a wonderful bass melody that rides underneath the arising instrumentation to great effect.
Later, second single, "Nothing Like You", and penultimate track, "Living In Colour" stick to the bands shrewdness of straight up indie-folk replenished with big choruses and immediate resonance. "Skip the Youth" is the centerpiece of the record. Slowly building for almost two minutes from guitar feedback and keyboards, Hutchison's instantly recognisable tremble intervenes to carry a wall of noise overflowing with multi-dubbed vocals and guitar strokes.
"Not Miserable" is even better, and undoubtedly the albums defining moment. ("I am free from disease/no greys/no liver spots/most of the misery's gone/gone to the bone") are the defiant words of Hutchison, declaring his newfound buoyancy in the wake of a previously regretful sentiment. Awash with affecting backing vocals, the song is gloriously uplifting and would challenge any despondent soul to rise to their feet.
The only real misstatement to be found among the record is the lo-fi acoustic rendition of first single "Swim Until You Can't See Land", renamed here as "Man/Bag of Sand". The original song is excellent, this rehash though, oddly sticks out and seems somewhat pointless among the remaining assortment. It manages to disrupt the otherwise fine flow of the album, although it's hardly a major flaw, as the supporting ten tracks are simply bursting with clever lyrics and flawless melodies.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks
is ultimately a resounding success for the band; a natural forward step in both musicianship and positive thinking. Although it may not hold the emotional potency that helped its masterful predecessor run with such unfathomed thrust, it's simply a collection of great songs fit to lift the soul. As concepts go, Organ Fight
was left to lick its wounds amidst a shattered relationship. Mixed Drinks
though, is one of rediscovery and forward motion. Frightened Rabbit are a band teetering on bigger things, and one would not begrudge them further successes should they find them.