Arab Strap Keep Listeners Guessing on Comeback Album 'As Days Get Dark'
Published Mar 02, 2021"I don't give a fuck about the past, the glory days gone by." When it comes to Arab Strap, it seems like there's no other reasonable way to start off their comeback album. After a prolonged hiatus, the Scotlanders returned to the studio to create the aptly titled As Days Get Dark; their first LP since 2005's excellent send-off (and equally aptly titled) The Last Romance.
Even before the turn of the millennium, Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton helped define the sound of '00s underground indie, from the post-rock pacing that would be also adopted by Mogwai to the tongue-twisting speak-sing of the Streets and the synth splendor of M83. So that's why, as the noughties revival starts to gear up, there's no better time for the duo to stage their return.
But despite the resistance Arab Strap seem to hold towards musical nostalgia, the pair are still keeping their audience guessing. Album opener "The Turning of Our Bones" features a pedestrian skeletal drum machine and uneven pacing, courtesy of Moffat's "rapping", while "Another Clockwork Day" delivers not much more than uninspired acoustic balladry. But as the album begins to ramp up with the twisting guitar and driving rhythm of "Compersion Pt. 1," the band hit a mid-album stride with the immortal "Kebabylon," a song so bursting with ideas and dynamics that it challenges "The Long Sea" and "Girls of Summer" for its pure grandiosity and brilliance.
From there, As Days Get Dark becomes a nearly flawless album, as the duo explore strident and rich synth sounds ("Tears on Tour"), Leonard Cohen-style lyrical directness ("I Was Once a Weak Man") and pure sonic adventurousness ("Sleeper"). Although they brought producer Paul Savage (Mogwai, The Twilight Sad) back into the studio for their second consecutive LP, As Days Get Dark sounds substantially different than The Last Romance, adding in wandering skronk saxophone, meaty four-on-the floor beats, stretched synths and swirling violins. This is all done by drenching these sounds with natural-sounding reverberations, helping Moffat and Middleton sound as interesting as they are moody.
For a band as hardboiled as Arab Strap, As Days Get Dark is nonetheless a love letter to the brave, ambitious nature the band has built their audience upon. The swings are bigger, the misses are broader, the hits are even more rewarding — for Arab Strap, there's no other reasonable way to approach it. (Rock Action)