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Arab Strap

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Album Review

Hearing "Packs of Three" begin Arab Strap's second full album with a gentle electric guitar strum and crisp drum beat is one thing, hearing Moffat softly sing "It was the biggest cock you'd ever seen, but no one knows where that cock has been" is quite another. Put the two together and that's Arab Strap in a disturbing nutshell, once again. With a number of guest performers on keyboards, strings, and other instruments, Moffat and Middleton once again create a series of tense, melancholy, and emotionally eviscerating numbers. Given the album title, meaning "fear of love," it's no surprise that happy-go-lucky tunes aren't anywhere to be found, but then again, that was never the Arab Strap M.O. in the first place. Lyrics as naked, realistic, and ugly as the cover paintings abound, their acid impact again, carefully shaped by the moody arrangements and steady pace throughout. The Albini-tinged production familiar from Week recurs here, but the songs themselves feel perversely gentler on the one hand, more anthemic ("Soaps" being a good example) on the other. The ear Middleton has for astonishing, subtle touches — the soft reverb guitar loop ending "Here We Go," the combination of hum and crackle on "Islands," the piano/drum arrangement on "I Would've Liked Me a Lot" — proves its strength time and again on Philophobia. Moffat's lyrics are printed in the CD booklet, a useful touch given his varying delivery, but what needs to be heard often comes through all too clearly for comfort, unless one somehow has always had a flawless life when it comes to love, lust, and their foibles. When it comes to the guests, Alan Wylie's trumpet work on "The Night Before the Funeral" is quite lovely, while Adele Bethel duets excellently with Moffat on "Afterwards."


Formed: 1995 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The Scottish post-folk duo Arab Strap were formed in mid-1995 by vocalist Aidan Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton, longtime friends who after years of exchanging cassettes of their respective bands decided to finally begin collaborating together. Upon signing to the hip Chemikal Underground label, they issued their debut single, the stark and downcast "The First Big Weekend"; the song was a major critical hit, with Britain's Radio One declaring it the best record of the decade. In...
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Philophobia, Arab Strap
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