Arab Strap: Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador)

You have to be down on your luck to really appreciate them, as they wallow in sadness. However, when they break out of it, it is joyous.

It would be bad form to write off Arab Strap as just another musical export in the so-called Scottish invasion. Like their cohorts Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian, they write lyrical, melody-charged pop songs with tongue firmly in cheek, although the Straps are a bit more mischievous.

Malcolm Middleton and Aiden Moffat are crafty buggers.
After seven years, they are misanthropic storytellers with no shame. Many of their lyrics center around the world of relationships: good, bad, and disastrous. They also write about drug hazes, gloom, and Scottish locales. They throw it all at you: cellos, bagpipes, distorted beats, doors slamming, and floods of tears. This is especially true with their new CD, Monday at the Hug & Pint. Named after a pub in their native Falkirk, the disc melds all of these things into a well-crafted, but sometimes non-contiguous, unit.

The album attempts to create the pub feeling. You enter on a euphoria, then you drink, think, drink, mingle, talk, mingle, and drink some more. Somewhere along the line, you’re at the barstool being sad and miserable, but still reveling in it all. Arab Strap have made a record that is lyrically frank. They are honest and on point. However, after a few rounds, they begin to spiral into sadness and decay as they banter on about bastards and evil women.

“The Shy Retirer” encapsulates the euphoria and is a brilliant beginning to the album. It features a beat that slashes calmly along, melded with great hooks and lyrics. “Meanwhile at the Bar, a Drunkard Muses” is tinged with darkness; it has dark lyrics and weeping melodies as a backdrop. “There are rules to follow,/just a big black gaping hollow.” That about sums up the dreariness here. “Loch Leven” is introduced by a nicely distorted bagpipe solo. The song itself is a homage to the loch in Falkirk, draped in the hopes and aspirations of dealing with somebody. “Flirt” is also one of the album’s best moments.

This also is a record that is honest, genuine, and real. Arab Strap are heartfelt songsters with an uncanny knack for making great hooks. This is most evident with “Glue” and “Act Of War,” two really solid tracks that, along with “The Shy Retirer,” may be the best on the record.

Arab Strap never craft the same song twice. But they have made another record with no rules or boundaries. They are captivating because they don’t care; they are relevant because they simply wear emotions on their sleeves. Stylistically, they have always been all over the place. This is OK, though, because they craft exhilarating pop. They devise great songs out of twisted lives and bitterness.

Arab Strap are not for everyone. You have to be down on your luck to really appreciate them, as they wallow in sadness. However, when they break out of it, it is joyous. Hug & Pint offers sentimentality, irony, melancholy, and hope amid all of its muddled sounds and diverse melodies.

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