Malcolm Middleton

5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine

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Arab Strap's Malcolm Middleton steps in front of the mike for this collection, which casts the usual Strap themes -- depression, self-loathing, loneliness -- over brittle stabs of acoustic guitar accentuated with swirls of atmospheric keyboards and the occasional female harmony (courtesy of Eva's Jenny Reave; the album also features contributions from Mogwai guy Barry Burns). According to the folks at Chemikal Underground, 5: 14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine began as a Middleton home recording project before its fleshing out. But even with gentle percussion or the aforementioned synth squiggles, the album is still intensely personal -- Middleton's accented mumble is almost an aside to himself that listeners just happen to overhear. Sometimes, it's personal to the point of awkwardness. "Where are you tonight?" he wonders in the fragile "Cold Winter." "Why aren't you here?/You should be looking after me this winter/I sure as hell can't" -- you want to jump a steamer to Scotland, or send in a St. Bernard with a cask of hot brandy. In "Speed on the M9," he professes a desire to get into a fight just for the company, and "Loneliest Night of My Life Came Calling" is made even more achy when its swaying melody is picked up by a windstorm of keys and bittersweet fiddle. Fluoxytine bottoms out with "Devil and the Angel." The first entity tells Middleton his "songs are sh*te," while the second reassures with kind words. Which path will he choose? Given the self-defeat and sadness palpable in every stitch of the album, the angel might not stand a chance. Bonus demo tracks are included at the end of the album; there's also a short film from Arab Strap video director Martin Smith.

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