Watercolor from a collection called "Korean Games" collected by Mary A. Shufeldt at Ch'oryang, 1886
The weirdest thing about the "sophomore slump" accusations being slung at Frightened Rabbit in relation to their new album is this - THEIR LAST ALBUM WAS THE SECOND ONE. It's as if you can sleep on a great album and give it a mediocre review, and then give the next album a mediocre review as well, saying it doesn't live up to the greatness of its predecessor. Sorry - I'm a little frustrated because I think that all three albums that have been put out by Scottish indie-pop group Frightened Rabbit have been great. The other thing that's frustrating reading some of these reviews is that The Winter of Mixed Drinks isn't indicative of any kind of real "slump". It doesn't have the visceral "breakup album" feel of 2008's Midnight Organ Fight, and it doesn't have that album's allegorical connection to actual viscera, but it stands well enough on its own merits.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks sets a decent pace with its first three songs, all mid-tempo rockers, and it pretty much holds that tempo over the album's length. It would actually be a really good record to jog to - its dynamics aren't in the tempo. The variation is in the addition and subtraction of sounds as the songs take shape and shift shape. Handclaps, chanted backing vocals, and catchy guitar riffs drop in and out of the songs' arrangements with a detail-oriented approach that somehow avoids sounding fussed over. For instance, "The Loneliness and the Scream" seems to paint itself into a corner at its halfway point when it hits a nice crescendo of layered guitar parts, and then it takes a left turn into a second section built on a chorus of yelping vocals. The one part of this approach that gets tiresome is how most of the songs rely on an ambient-sounding introductions.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks is anchored by two really strong singles, the spare and jangly "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and the buzzing and guitar-heavy "Nothing Like You". These songs underpin the album's theme of putting things right in one's life. Beginning with the abandonment of all baggage in its opening track, "Things", the album focuses on themes like breaking out of old patterns and examining priorities more carefully. That makes it sound like a "feel-good album" from a band that's lost its edge (and some may see it that way), but, for me, this is an album that you can have in your headphones on the day when you step out your front door for a jog and then just keep on running.
"Nothing Like You" by Frightened Rabbit