The Red Thread (Chemikal Underground, 2001)
The band’s 2001 return on Chemikal Underground, while cause for rejoicing, really did feel like a dark cloud rolling in over the sea. The pace throughout The Red Thread dropped lower than ever, matching a hollow-eyed and subdued mood prevalent in the lyrics. It arrived after “Rocket, Take Your Turn”/“Blackness”, a paradigm-shifting single that saw the band creating a dark hued IDM, conjuring atmosphere and the pressure of enclosure in low-lit space…
…But the album didn’t take that route at all. The next red herring was opener “Amor Veneris”, a decent acoustic pop number that had little to do with the rest of the record. The predominant backdrop was a groaning, swaying sound, a bit like urban sea-shanties. It also says a lot that “at least we know we’re fuckable,” stands as the most hopeful sounding moment.
The Red Thread is curiously back-loaded with “Love Detective” working a strange noir-jazz, the orchestral waltz and impassioned desperation of “Haunt Me”, then “Turbulence” where a solid dancefloor beat belies a sense of the endless party getting wearying for those who must keep dancing. A voicemail left in the outro gets an “AMEN!” from anyone who has ever had a night turn sour.
Monday at the Hug and Pint (Chemikal Underground, 2003)
Seemingly reinvigorated after a year-long break, Arab Strap returned in killer style. Monday at the Hug and Pint hit the ground running with “The Shy Retirer” then seesawed between very different moments like the brief sweet interlude of “Meanwhile, at the Bar, a Drunkard Muses”, or things as sonically crushing as “Fucking Little Bastards”.
While previous albums had usually forged a solitary mood and worked it, this album was an expansive experience rushing toward new thresholds. It finishes on the cheeky charm of “The Week Never Starts Around Here”. It’s enjoyable seeing a 1996 sentiment resurrected, on an album that made clear they’d traveled miles since then.
Arab Strap’s longevity is no accident, a key reason being on display with Monday at the Hug and Pint. While everyone thinks of Arab Strap as having a comfortably familiar sound, their actual sonic identity is extremely malleable. Not wedded to any particular mode or model, Middleton’s sound is versatile allowing Arab Strap to carry on evolving and changing. Similarly, Moffat’s idiosyncratic vocal style draws attention, but he has an ability to sound perfectly at home in numerous settings, whether on “Loch Leven” or something as different as “Who Named the Days”.