Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n09)
Rick On The Records - by Rick Zeigler
posted: Apr. 30, 2010
FRIGHTENED RABBIT-THE WINTER OF MIXED DRINKS
While Frightened Rabbit have expanded to a 5-piece from a 3-piece for this, their third album, Scott Hutchinson is still the main man behind this Glasgow-based band. Ably assisted by string arrangements from label-mate Hauschka, Frightened Rabbit have crafted a huge, atmospheric, and emotional soundscape reminiscent of the "wall of sound" put forth back in the sixties by Phil Spector and, more recently, by bands like Arcade Fire. While the songs are generally steeped in a variety of depressive imagery, with "graves," "sickness," and "pale lights" being good examples of the type of wordplay on display here, the music is anything but downcast. Indeed, the grand swells and massed background vocals yield an inspired, optimistic feeling, as minimalist passages are constantly juxtaposed with rousing, dynamic sweeps. Each song adds to the grand, emotional resonance of the album, although individual textures can vary from the voice and piano spareness of "Not Miserable," to the chant along, hands-aloft chorus of "Living In Colour". Opener "Things" begins with phased/reverbed guitar (somewhat in the "shoegaze" arena) and rather military drumming, and finds Hutchinson's strongly sung vocals complimented by deft guitar picking and a variety of echoed effects. The result here, and throughout, is excellent, anthemic, indie rock. "Swim Until You Can't See The Land" follows, with a strong, beautiful melody declaimed atop a mass of strummed electric and acoustic guitars and stately drumming. Indeed, particular mention should be made of the contributions made by brother Grant Hutchinson's superb stick play, which can be military-like, deftly light, or sturdily pounding, depending on what mood is called for. With most songs resolving into huge orchestral finishes, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks is a superb album from start to finish.
Phantogram's debut is very appropriately titled. It's spare, hazy sound yields a fluttering delicacy that one can imagine attending to and "watching" with eyelids closed. The band is an upper New York state electro-pop duo consisting of Josh Carter on vocals, guitars and beats/programming and Sarah Barthel on vocals and keys. Their music recalls the glory days of trip-hop, when Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky seemed to point towards a new sound. Eighties synth-driven bands like the Human League are another obvious reference point. But Eyelid Movies sounds completely contemporary rather than dated, more atmospheric than "trippy" and more poppy than "hoppy". Opener "Mouthful of Diamonds" is a gem and sets the stage. Starting with a bass drum and slightly off-the-beat synth line, a gorgeous, spare guitar line is then introduced. But the real key here, and throughout much of the album, are the vocal lines of Barthel. Her voice is perfectly suited to this music, being both seductive and a little stand-offish. Further, she can whisper or sing out with no loss of emotion either way. When she is upfront, the songs soar. Relatedly, if there is one weak point of the album, it is her partner Josh Carter's voice. Neither particularly expressive nor possessing much range, Carter tends to almost talk more than sing. However, the musical backing is strong regardless of who is up front, as is evident on "Turn It Off," with Carter's lead vocals resting atop a sinister yet inviting synth-driven hook. "Let Me Go" unites a percussive, stuttery beat with a great melody from Barthel, while "10,000 Claps" is almost lullabye-like in its delicacy. And while most songs featuring both vocalists have them singing to each other in alternating lines, album standout "Futuristic Casket" unites their voices behind a hard-charging melody. In sum, those jaded by the mediocre output of recent trip-hop/techno offerings should be well pleased with this release.
Rick Zeigler, along with his wife, Jeanne, owns Indy CD and Vinyl at 806 Broad Ripple Avenue. Back in his musician days, his band opened for the likes of U2, XTC, Gang Of Four, The Pretenders, Los Lobos, and, um, Flock Of Seagulls, among others. You can read all of Rick's reviews at www.indycdandvinyl.com. Email your music questions and comments to rick@BroadRippleGazette.com