Arab Strap — „As Days Get Dark“ (March 5, 2021)
★ Arab Strap: „Písně jsou o tom, na co se lidé obrátí, když to potřebují, obvykle pod rouškou noci.“ Od posledního alba Aidana Moffata (12 alb) a Malcolma Middletona (11+2+3 alba) z temného světa Arab Strap uplynulo šestnáct let [„The Last Romance“, 17 Oct. 2005]. Ale na jejich novém albu „As Days Get Dark“ zůstává jejich šibeniční humor stejně silný jako kdykoli předtím.
★ „Když jsme byli mladší, byli jsme rozhodně mnohem ukřičenější, ale po čase se navzájem prostě necháte, abyste pokračovali v práci, ve které jsme dobří. Myslím, že existuje více prvku důvěry, než tomu bylo tehdy,“ přemýšlí zpěvák Moffat, nyní 47 let.
★ On their first album in 16 years, the Scottish duo situates themselves in the current moment, teasing out new modes of songwriting while remaining as wry, dark, and self~lacerating as ever.
Birth name: Aidan John Moffat
Born: 10 April 1973
Birth name: Malcolm Bruce Middleton
Born: 31 December 1973, Dumfries, Scotland
Location: Falkirk, Scotland
Album release: March 5, 2021
Record Label: Rock Action
01. The Turning of Our Bones 5:03
02. Another Clockwork Day 3:30
03. Compersion, Pt. 1 3:37
04. Bluebird 2:52
05. Kebabylon 5:15
06. Tears On Tour 4:29
07. Here Comes Comus! 4:14
08. Fable of the Urban Fox 4:55
09. I Was Once a Weak Man 3:27
10. Sleeper 6:24
11. Just Enough 3:33
by Stuart Berman ⌊MARCH 11 2021⌋ Score: 8.0
★ Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat will never come up with a more striking opening line than the one that introduced 1998’s Philophobia: “It was the biggest cock you’ve ever seen/But you’ve no idea where that cock has been.” However, the lyric that ushers us into As Days Get Dark comes awfully close: “I don’t give a fuck about the past/Or glory days gone by,” Moffat seethes in his signature surly monotone. Like the best Arab Strap lyrics, the line is candid, confrontational, and highly amusing all at once. But it’s not just funny because it kicks off the Scottish duo’s first album in 16 years, a gap that inevitably forces listeners to consider their past and how this record measures up against it. No, it’s funny for Arab Strap to invoke the phrase “glory days” because they have always sounded like defeated old men fixating on the most awkward, embarrassing, painful moments of their lives while staring down the bottom of another empty pint glass.
★ Among the contingent of indie bands that briefly turned Scotland into the next Seattle in the late ’90s, Arab Strap were always the most daunting proposition. They were respected enough to earn a side~eyed nod from Belle and Sebastian in the title of their most beloved song/album. But while the two bands may have shared an affinity for detailed and intimate storytelling, Moffat was ultimately the anti~Stuart Murdoch, forsaking wistful melodies for grimly spoken monologues. And even if you viewed Arab Strap through the lens of post~rock rather than indie~pop, they were still a freakish anomaly: Though Moffat and his multi~instrumentalist partner Malcolm Middleton could challenge their fellow countrymen Mogwai for the title of Biggest Slint Fans in Scotland, they rarely displayed the same penchant for noise~rock crescendos and catharsis, preferring to let their songs stew in discomfort and dread.
★ But if their former labelmates~turned~label bosses can lay claim to a No. 1 album in 2021, then surely Arab Strap can be embraced as patron saints to the current generation of melody~allergic sing~spielers detailing the minutiae of life. And so, on As Days Get Dark, Arab Strap are reborn as Sleaford Mods on meds, taking stock of a world whose soul has been rotted out by internet addiction, xenophobia, and toxic masculinity. But as much as it resituates Arab Strap in the current moment, As Days Get Dark is not a work of observational social commentary — as ever, Moffat aims his most lethal blows at himself.
★ Back in the late ’90s, few writers in indie rock put male behavior under the microscope as eagerly and unflinchingly as Moffat, exposing all the fragile egotism, insecurity, and regret that lurks in the hearts of men. And with As Days Get Dark, he continues to interrogate those traits in equally hilarious and heartbreaking ways — with the added weight of an extra decade~and~a~half of middle~aged pathos. On “Another Clockwork Day,” he frames his inadequacies in the context of shifting online porn trends: “And the films these days, with their surgery scars and bad tats/And it’s all stepmoms and stepsisters now/What the fuck’s all that about?” But what begins as a comical caricature of some (literal) wanker slowly reveals itself to be something more devastating when Moffat’s protagonist starts pleasuring himself to bygone digital images of the same woman he still sleeps beside every night, but no longer finds as attractive. “When he removes his glasses/She looks just the same as she does in the pixels of those old JPEGs,” he notes. In an Arab Strap song, this is what passes for a heartwarming love story.
★ If “Another Clockwork Day” coaxes tragedy out of comedy, “Tears on Tour” works the other way. After Moffat chronicles the debilitating grief he felt when learning of two grandparents’ deaths while Arab Strap were out on the road, he starts cataloging the somewhat less traumatic events that have reduced him to an equally blubbering mess: “I cry at rom~coms, dramedies, the news and children’s films/The Muppet Movie, Frozen, Frozen 2.” But that revelation is less of an expression of embarrassment than pride, an admission that crying is a healthy, cathartic act all men should undertake more regularly. And in that sanguine, open~hearted spirit, As Days Get Dark embraces the old misery~loves~company adage by wrapping Moffat’s wounded words in Arab Strap’s most accessible and near~danceable songs to date.
★ Of course, with Arab Strap these are relative concepts — this is, after all, a band less interested in soundtracking your Saturday~night bender than in giving voice to the street cleaner who has to sweep up your used condoms and syringes in the wee hours of Sunday morning (see: “Kebabylon”). But while the duo jokingly gave this album the working title of Disco Spiderland, the steely drum~machine grooves of “The Turning of Our Bones” and “Compersion Pt. 1” seriously deliver on that promise, investing their respective narratives of tribal resurrection rituals and open~marriage sexual exploration with an even more salacious, sinister edge. And in the surprisingly anthemic “Here Comes Comus!”, we get a glimpse of the more streamlined indie~rock band Arab Strap could’ve become had they opted to chase that Interpol money back in the day, while the forlorn electro~folk of “Bluebird” — a deceptively serene account of shitposting — suggests this group’s true legacy was preparing the world for the brooding romanticism of the National.
★ As Days Get Dark doesn’t just honor the past, it also forecasts a possible future. On the six~minute epic “Sleeper,” Moffat closes his laptop and retreats into the theater of the mind, weaving an eerie, vividly surreal narrative about a stranger on a train, while Middleton piles on the clamoring piano chords, dramatic strings, and five~alarm saxophone squeals. The purpose of our hero’s journey is never made clear, though it becomes pretty obvious that his “final destination” is an early grave. But while the song represents a bold leap beyond the band’s usual hyper~analytical narratives, it nonetheless remains true to subversive form: In this portrait of impending death, Arab Strap have never sounded more alive.
By The Newsroom, Thursday, 11th March 2021, 11:45 am: