Since releasing their humble debut Sing the Greys in 2007, Frightened Rabbit has seemed primed for bigger things. In particular, that album’s standout “Be Less Rude” showed the Scottish band as capable of making something transcendent even on a shoestring budget. Their sophomore effort The Midnight Organ Fight only amplified their past strengths with an emotionally powerful, nearly perfect set of songs made better with crisper, brighter production. Three of those songs were singles, and nearly a half dozen others could have also been, each of them rich in pathos and breathtaking melodies. And yet, as strong an album as that was, it left plenty of breathing room for the band to expand and enrich their arrangements, to go even bigger.
With third album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit (or Frabbits as their fans lovingly refer to them) do just that. Everything that made the group so endearing and captivating before is still present here. Scott Hutchison’s songwriting and emotive vocals remain intact, the band every bit the dramatic and scruffily gorgeous tunesmiths that they were before. But working with producer Peter Katis for a second round, Frightened Rabbit have taken their sound to a new plateau, filling each song with new layers and denser arrangements. While singles from their first two albums seemed just on the cusp of commercial success, it’s entirely conceivable that the anthems contained on this album could very well land the group some much deserved radio hits.
The band’s first indication of their broadened horizons came with the release of first single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” a gorgeous tune that opens with a stripped down guitar riff only to slowly escalate into a sweeping, beautiful string arrangement from labelmate Hauschka. And at the center of it all is Hutchison’s determination to escape and start anew, as he rhymes the title refrain with the rhetorical prompt, “Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?” Complementing this track is the album’s other single, the urgent and upbeat “Nothing Like You,” an almost Arcade Fire-like indie rock powerhouse that finds Hutchison reassuring, or perhaps lamenting to a lover, “This girl she was nothing like you.”
Beyond the singles, however, the anthems grow ever more ambitious and massive, such as “Foot Shooter,” a moving standout on par with 2008′s “My Backwards Walk.” The nautical imagery of “Swim” re-emerges here, as Hutchison sings “better go outside/ sit in your boat and wait/ till you get washed away.” The song’s tear-jerking climax comes a bit later, however, as Hutchison croons, “And as my face turns white/ I apologize/ I’m sorry/ It’s not your fault, it’s mine.” The incredible “Skip the Youth” starts off with a lengthy intro that layers several noisy loops before the song’s soaring verse crashes through, Hutchison leaning away from oceanic riffs on mortality in favor of a variation on the ‘youth is wasted on the young’ lament: “If this is the prime of life/ I wish I could skip the blasted youth.” The stomps and handclaps in “The Loneliness and the Scream” merely make an already great song that much more fun, while “The Wrestle” is a good bet for third single, transitioning brilliantly from sparse verses to a colossal chorus and back to a barely-there bridge.
The ascent has been gradual, but Frightened Rabbit have aimed higher and farther with each release, expanding their approach and increasing in personnel, with their current incarnation a quintet. The potential for something huge has always been there in the band’s music, and with The Winter of Mixed Drinks, they’ve taken that extra step. Something tells me this is going to be Frightened Rabbit’s year.
Video: “Nothing Like You”