Arab Strap

The Red Thread

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Scotland's answer to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen return for their fourth studio record in five years, offering ten more tracks of ribald slack that clock in at an hour. By now, the comparisons to any U.S. indie bands that preceded them seem silly -- at no point did Aidan Moffat's tales of infidelity, fidelity, paranoia, and other degrees of romantic unease remotely resemble the bands that they were endlessly linked to. What becomes most evident now is that the comparisons were attributed to slow tempos and little else. It's not that Arab Strap have developed considerably since their first single. Their prolific output since then has been more about refinements than finding their own ground, because they've always been comfortable with their position. Moffat's tales fit somewhere between Pulp's Jarvis Cocker and the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli at their darkest, never really committing to either side but striking a sometimes clever but always blunt edge that neither would think to traipse upon. Anyone who has ever heard an Arab Strap song (understood might be a better term) will know what Moffat's talking about when he asks to be given something to wipe with on "Infrared." Shattering their previous best moment, "Love Detective" catches Moffat in a Woody Allen moment, as a paranoiac rummaging through a lover's "wee red cashbox" of memorabilia after she mistakenly leaves the key behind. Arab Strap's gradual refinements have hit a peak, but don't expect anything new. Slithery programmed beats, tingly guitars, plodding rhythms, and whispered/warbled sing-speak lead the way yet again, with occasional piano licks and strings thrown in for very good atmospheric measure. Just like Becker and Fagen, Moffat and Middleton stubbornly carry on with their unique wares and do so with excellence. Fittingly, both duos are named after sexual implements.

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