Arab Strap

The Week Never Starts Round Here

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The Strap's first album continues the initial splash made by the quirky groove of "The First Big Weekend," which is included here with thirteen other songs. Moffat's technique of undersinging/speaking his lyrics at points, combined with the lack of a lyric sheet, does mean that his vaunted dissections of modern relationships aren't necessarily as prominent as the group's most rabid fans would have. They're understandable more often than not, but work better almost as the niggling voice of one's conscience rather than as a prominent lead (though his take on "General Plea to a Girlfriend" is blackly hilarious, words and delivery both). Instead, it's Middleton's arrangements and performances, assisted by other musician friends along the way, which shape the album's balance between late-night rumination and cryptically aggressive power. The overall production brings out a lot of both space and drum punch -- Steve Albini fans, especially those who appreciate his work with Slint, will likely enjoy the results here. "The Clearing," wisely released as a single, is a fantastic combination of everyone's efforts. Moffat's vocals are distorted but still quite clear, his subject matter as dour as legend has it, while a massive drum beat rumbles up from the depths behind a gentle combination of guitar, cello, and particularly lovely piano courtesy of Chris Geddes. Another track where Moffat's performance takes center stage is "The Smell of Outdoor Cooking," perhaps the most existential depiction of an evening barbecue ever, with a slightly queasy organ as the main instrument as drums relentlessly build. "I Work in a Saloon" is a quieter number in comparison to the restrained strength at play elsewhere, soft, crackling drum machines tracks and acoustic guitar supporting Moffat's ponderings. Other flecks of the folk roots of the group crop up on songs like "Little Girls," while "Deeper" concludes Week on a lengthy, low-key note.

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