Frightened Rabbit’s last album, 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight, was damn near perfect, and those who discovered it tended to embrace it passionately. While it’s pointless to speculate on the pressure the Scottish band felt when writing and recording the follow-up, it’s interesting to consider it from a fan’s perspective, which might be boiled down to this: “Can it possibly be as good as the last one?” The short answer is “Almost,” and that’s enough to make The Winter Of Mixed Drinks an early contender for 2010 best-of lists. Singer-guitarist Scott Hutchison sticks to what he does well—finding sparks in life’s direst moments and exploding them into joyous release. Drowning is a running theme, but so is survival: The first single, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” is as much about challenging yourself as it is about dying. Then there’s “Skip The Youth,” which offers a succinct Frightened Rabbit statement of purpose laid atop a track more ambitious and layered than usual: “If you never feel bleak, life starts to lose its taste.” But the differences are mostly subtle, and Winter plays like Organ’s slightly more subdued older brother. A couple of songs quicken the pace (“Nothing Like You” sounds like The Wedding Present, and it’s almost jaunty in spite of lyrics about tumors and operations), but Frightened Rabbit is mostly content to continue exploring the vein it tapped a couple of years ago. Fans will need to be slightly more patient, but they’ll ultimately be well rewarded.