Album review: The Winter of Mixed Drinks pining, folksy

Album review: The Winter of Mixed Drinks pining, folksy

by Natalie Schack, News Staff

There is something about folksy, pining Scotsmen with masculinity issues and a penchant for sexual analysis that just does it for all y’all indie kids.

How could you hate those pensive guitars? That endearing sense of self-deprecation? Reflexivity that would put Dashboard to shame? It’s a package that would make any romantic masochist swoon.

Frightened Rabbit is a group of Scots brothers and Scots friends. With guitars and weeping lyrics firmly in place, they hammer out their songs of loneliness and “boo-hoo.” Too much bullshit, they say. Too much girl bullshit. Too many tears, awkward se, and empty promises. What is it that Frightened Rabbit gets that the rest of the music kingdom doesn’t get? It’s the art of failing. In a beautiful explosion of mismatched soul-searching and semi-regretful glances back at a deed that can only be expressed in ironic allegory, the Frightened Rabbit music catalog encapsulates all that is the lover and the loved in a distinctly loveless contemporary world.

Since 2008’s The Midnight Organ Flight seeped its acoustic self-loathing onto the folksy music scene, the Internet airwaves have been teeming with expectation for the second saga of Frightened Rabbit romance.

The Winter of Mixed Drinks did not disappoint. It was an exercise in Frightened Rabbit-ese, yes. It certainly indicated that the Scotsboys haven’t changed their views on the high, high, highs of elated infatuation and the low, low, lows of intimacy gone wrong. The album starts off with the fantastic “Things,” bursting into a climax of musical chaos, eventually reconciling in a demure spattering of watery string plucking and resonance. “So I shed my clothes, I shed my flesh, down to the bone and I burned the rest. I didn’t need these things … took them all to bits, and turned them outside in, and I left them on the floor and ran for dear life for the door, oh.” The moans and the writhing continue.

“Modern Madonna! Modern Madonna! Held my hand in warm hands with pink nails … whisper that the sickness will go away,” they cry on “Living in Color,” amidst the banging of drums and the frenetic strumming of guitars. Choruses crescendo in a frenzy of the emotional unknown.

Mixed Drinks, say the boys, is more layered, more produced; basically more oomph-y. It even required the addition of another band member. It’s a departure from the under-produced folk that propelled them to a state of indie stardom. Instead, Drinks barrels forward with the patience of a night spent drinking alone, the intricate attention to detail of a quiltist working by candlelight, and the alternating swells of hope and despair that characterize a relationship doomed to fail.

The weepy but fabulous, “Yes I would” murmurs, “You told me to get lost to find myself. First it bleeds, then it stops. I feel like I’ve been bound.” Somehow Frightened Rabbit cry without tears. They want nothing of the martyr, instead relating the tragedy of the lorn and scarred with a wisdom, a resignation, a child confronting maturity’s cold, callous hand. How else could a song called “The Loneliness” be wildly fantastic instead of the pretentious self-pitying dive into the dregs of depression that the title would imply? Instead, it is one of the greatest tracks on the album, soaring out in the energy-ridden desperation that Frightened Rabbit has built a musical career on. “In the loneliness, oh the loneliness. And the scream to bring the blood to the front of my face again,” they bellow as the song calms, calms, calms … and then swells – like a hoedown, a nightmare, a wet dream, a firing squad, a lifetime of repression, a millisecond of frustration. “Well I’m done playing God just to lose it again, leave it to me to keep together, we were hammering it.” Oh, like falling. In love, off a cliff, from grace: “Well, I’m done playing God, I can lose it again, I’ll never calm your heart, it beats miles away…” Clapping never sounded so good.

Perhaps what makes Frightened Rabbit so accessible is their truth. They wrap it in the swaddlings of a tight musical awareness, cradled in a simultaneous desire to create; and to tell. Stories in the world of Frightened Rabbit come with a drink. They’re the type of band that feels everything like a finger in the campfire, pursuing everything like it’s the last thing they’ve got; loves everything like it’s a piece of themselves. The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a reflection of that.

One day, these Scotsboys may find the loves of their lives. They’ll settle down in functional homes, surrounded by appreciative fans that can’t get enough of their weepy romanticism or folksy musical prowess. But then … what will they sing about?

Sorry, Frightened Rabbit. But let’s hope that day does not soon come. All of history’s giant artists have suffered through a pain that wracks their being. And it made them great.

You’re too good to stop now. Let the tragedy continue.

Frightened Rabbit play in Boston at The Paradise April 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Go to Thedise.com for more information.

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