Arab Strap

Monday at the Hug and Pint

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The entire recorded output of this Scottish duo can be summed up by the title of the second song on this, their fifth studio album: "Meanwhile, at the Bar, a Drunkard Muses." However, for the first time in a long time, the music that supports the musing can't be reduced to a phrase like "slowly, over a putting drum machine, a guitar chimes." Surprisingly, this uncharacteristically scatterbrained album follows solo projects from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton; while that kind of hiatus normally allows group members to purge ideas not suited for their regular outlet, it only seemed to foster restlessness in Arab Strap's case. All that was really learned from those solo projects was that Middleton wanted to sing and that Moffat, for once, didn't. The first change that's evident here is the tempo variation; those who bought the album on vinyl likely figured someone left the turntable speed at 45 once the first song, "The Shy Retirer," began whipping by. Nothing else is quite as speedy, but if the duo's previous albums were as steady as a ship on still waters, this one is on choppy waters. The choppiness is made all the more detectable through the constant changes in approach, like the way the pungent dirge of "Fucking Little Bastards" (with squalling guitars and battered human drums) gives way to the elegant dreariness of "Peep Peep" (with a quietly pulsing mechanical beat and a violin that escalates to a near-burst at the end). Slide guitars, bagpipe instrumentals, folky fireside singalongs -- there's not much that the album doesn't have. All the restless energy adds up to a few too many diversions. It could be said that Arab Strap records should be messy. However, when they're this agitated and unfocused, they can't be settled into.

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