Arab Strap

Elephant Shoe

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All of the same words ("languid," "somnolent," "depressing," "miserable," et al.) employed to describe Arab Strap's first two efforts apply to their third as well, but a virtually imperceptible shift is afoot on Elephant Shoe -- a shift that none of their previous work hinted at. If both The Week Never Starts Round Here and Philophobia were one-night stands put to music, Elephant Shoe turns out to be skeptical domestication. It is an album unmistakably touched by the vulnerability of being in love -- or at least trying to love -- as opposed to remembering, yearning for, or altogether avoiding it. Whereas the title of their previous album literally translated to "fear of falling in love," "elephant shoe" is a phrase uttered by Scottish youth afraid of saying, "I love you," a way of implying the sentiment while deflecting its articulation. Elephant Shoe, in a sense, then, is Arab Strap's warped way of saying those three powerful little words. That doesn't hinder the typical brutal honesty of Aidan Moffat's lyrics. Even his most peaceful and content emotions are infused with hints of violence and misgiving. He is frequently scathing, spitting out ultimatums like "If you go/Go for good," but such a breakup couplet suggests a long-term relationship in the first place. There are a fair share of cabaret-soaked moments -- funereal soundscapes, mournful cello, lounge piano -- but even in the face of Malcolm Middleton's beautifully forlorn electric guitar strumming, an underlying buoyancy is manifested in the use of punchy drum-machine rhythms on songs such as "Cherubs," "One Four Seven One," and "The Drinking Eye." The sex is no longer dirty, the guilt no longer flailing in the dark, and the misery no longer entirely hopeless. It is an emotional step forward that may not be an entirely convincing evolution for Arab Strap -- and may, as is love's nature, prove short-lived -- but it is palpable, and considering their history, it is a courageous progression. Still, the album fits in the record collection next to Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Joy Division, Portishead, the Smiths, and Tindersticks.

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