She was not the cure for cancer
And all my questions still ask for answers
There is nothing like someone new
This girl she was nothing like you

Like many fans of Frightened Rabbit’s amazing 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight I was worried how they would follow it up. It was obvious that they were a band of great talent, centered around the lyrics and vocals of Scott Hutchinson. However, Organ Fight was so intensely focused, it was natural to wonder if the magic would still be there when they moved on to other subjects.

Fortunately, those worries were without need: their new album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is another fine effort.

To begin, a quick look back. I first heard The Midnight Organ Fight on the morning of June 20. How do I remember the date? Because it was my birthday. I found a few tracks on the I Am Fuel, You Are Friends music blog and within moments had purchased the entire album with my new iTunes gift certificates. I was immediately struck by the power and emotion of the album. Before the weekend was over, the album had completely won me over: I was listening to it nearly non-stop.

Hutchinson’s songs about the bitter end of a relationship touched a nerve and dredged up memories of my own romantic failures. By the end of the year, the album and its opening track “The Modern Leper” had become my favorites of the year. Their strength held over time and they captured, respectively, the titles of favorite album and song of the decade. In fact, Organ Fight was the only album of the 2000s to crack my all-time top ten, bumping U2’s Achtung Baby from the top five.

The Winter of Mixed Drinks is, as one might guess, largely about moving on. The lines I began the review with, which come from the song “Nothing Like You,” are the most direct tie to Organ Fight. There is someone new, and, after other failed attempts, our narrator realizes that moving on does not mean that every loose end will be tied up. We all have questions from our past that remain unanswered, even if we’re happy now.

It’s not just about moving on from lost love, though, but also from loneliness and the obstacles of day-to-day life. Another theme is the idea of challenging yourself, whether it’s in a life-affirming manner or in an effort to move out of a rut. Hutchinson’s lyrics are, once again, fantastic if slightly less easy to digest. You have to dig into many of these songs to find the gold buried within. Musically, the band has both expanded and improved its sound. Songs are built on layers of sound, rather than the waves of Organ Fight. As with the lyrics, the music takes longer to penetrate than the last album.

Those differences are both good and bad. They’re good because the band has obviously grown. This album sounds much different than the last, but that sound is rooted in confidence and proficiency. The differences are bad because the band does get stuck in mid-tempo for much of the album. While individually excellent, the songs do have a tendency to blend together when listened to as a whole. While they step more towards the indie-rock center, they are careful not to slip into the safe territory where Coldplay is firmly entrenched. These songs still have an edge and honesty that will keep them from ever turning into pop radio hits.

Another difference between the albums is the level of emotion. Organ Fight was raw, angry, and unfiltered. Every negative emotion about a lover leaving was expressed for the world to hear, shame and consequences be damned. It was uncomfortable, at times, yet impossible to turn off. Winter of Mixed Drinks is far more subtle. There’s emotion there, to be sure, but it’s more reflective and muted than in-your-face.

The quibbles are minor, though. The album is better than most that will be released this year. I expect it to stack up favorably against the new releases from The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, and The National scheduled for May. It is proof that this talented, passionate band from Selkirk, Scotland will be around for years to come.

4.5 ☆