In January I’d written how I couldn’t wait for the new album from Frightened Rabbit, the Scottish rockers whom I rate as one of the finest bands on the scene now. Well, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is out now and, as I write this (a week before you’re going to be reading it), it’s been rotating on my playlist for the past four days.
The Frightened Rabbit are from Selkirk in Scotland and are led by two brothers, Scott and Grant Hutchison who sing and play the guitar and drums, respectively. The two full-lengths that they released before the latest one, Sing The Greys (2006) and The Midnight Organ Fight (2008) were simply brilliant. The deep, hearfelt lyrics, a slightly morbid undertone and a style of singing that is made unique by frontman Scott Hutchison’s Scottish accent, all of this endeared me to Frightened Rabbit almost instantly. I can’t think of a single song on these two albums that I don’t like, particularly on their simply superb second album, The Midnight Organ Fight.
So, expectations were high when The Winter of Mixed Drinks finally came. And it didn’t disappoint. Okay, I’ll stick my neck out to say that I’ll be surprised if this new Frightened Rabbit album doesn’t make it to the connoisseurs’ lists of this year’s best indie bands. I would even say Frightened Rabbit have it in them to become big. Really big. If this album makes a splash in the US, you could be hearing far more about them. There are a few changes on this album. First, the line-up. The four-member band has added a fifth member, Gordon Skene on keyboards, guitar and backing vocals. Second, the music. The new album has a sound that is much more layered and complex than it was on their earlier albums. Yet, the lyrics are as literate and cerebral as ever. And, as in the past, it has a theme. If The Midnight Organ Fight was the perfect album for a relationship that has snapped, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is all about change and a new beginning but with a tinge of apprehension. Months before the album came out, one of the tracks, Swim Until You Can’t See Land, was released and its lyrics (Up to my knees now, do I wait?/ Do I dive?/The sea has seen my like before though it’s my first/ And perhaps last time) are best representative of the general mood of the album.
The second album to wow me thus far this year was brought to my notice by a young and far more clued-in colleague who first introduced me to Gil Scott-Heron, American street poet and spoken-word soul singer who has inspired many rappers.
Sadly, I hadn’t heard of Scott-Heron (he’s 60 and has been performing and recording since 1969) before my colleague, Jairaj Singh, pointed him out to me. I went and got I’m New Here, Scott-Heron’s latest recording that came out this year; it’s his 13th album and the first in more than 16 years. I didn’t regret it. It’s a spoken-word album with minimal instrumental backing. Scott-Heron’s raspy, bar-drenched voice has a calm but alluring quality to it and his lyrics are narrative and could even be autobiographical. For example, the first track, On Coming From a Broken Home, is a tribute to the womenfolk who raised him.
Scott-Heron has been called the “Black Bob Dylan” and my introduction to his most recent album has ensured that I’ll look for his back catalogue. I read somewhere that his earlier work was more funky and jazz-influenced and also that in the 1970s, he collaborated with fellow-American flautist, pianist and composer, Brian Jackson. I scoured the e-shops that I frequent and found a collaborative effort from 1975, From South Africa to South Carolina. True. The 12-song album is very different from the spoken-word I’m New Here and deals with issues ranging from apartheid to nuclear proliferation. Songs to check out: Johannesburg (both the studio and the live versions), Save The Children and Let Me See Your ID. If you’ve never heard Scott-Heron, this is a great album to start with before hopping forward 35 years to last February’s I’m New Here.
Three to Tango:
- Destroyer: That’s Canadian rocker Dan Bejar’s band and one of their best albums is Streethawk. You could stream the re-issued version or even download a couple of tracks.
- Fetus: Electronic progressive-rock from the Italian composer Franco Battiato. Fetus is an album from 1971. The music is experimental and worth trying.
- Monitor Mix: From reviews to streamed music to witticisms, former Sleater-Kinney guitarist and singer Carrie Brownstein’s blog at NPR is an interesting feed to subscribe to. It’s free!