For Arab Strap's third release, they have gone in a less-ranting more melodic direction. Their first two albums are full of songs that feature the vocalist ranting over slow, melancholy music, and then suddenly things go all loud and the sound just explodes.
This album doesn't do that so much. The ranting is more subdued -- in fact, often it almost sounds like he is singing! [ASIDE: How is it that the vocalist always sounds as if he is about three beers away from passing out? Is it that his scottish accent involves dropping or slurring many of the harsher consonant sounds, much like you or i would do whilest tanked? Or is he really that drunk? I wonder....]
Also, the instrumentation seems slower on the whole, but it is less melancholy. It is also more prevalent. For example, Tanned (my favorite on the disc) starts with mellow effected arpeggios (a la Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church) and vocals, and then quickly changes to mellow guitarwork and wailing muted trumpet. Perhaps it's the muted trumpet that makes this song for me. That sound calls to mind smokey dives and jazz men in wrinkled suits and slow dancing with pretty girls..... Direction of a Strong Man also features some brilliant prevalent guitarwork -- in fact, the riff in this song might very well be the catchiest thing that Arab Strap have ever recorded!
All Arab Strap releases have included songs that are half vocal-free (the epic New birds from their debut comes to mind), but this album seems more instrumental. Sure, the slurred vocals are there, but they seem to fade out earlier in the songs, thus letting the other instruments carry the mood to it's resolution. A prime example is Autumnal which begins with the regular muttered vocals over slow and beautiful guitarwork, and then descends into a gloriously messy wall of noise complete with violins. Simply stunning and quite cathartic.
You see, for Arab Strap, songs are all about mood. I see these two individuals (aparently there are only two people in the band) as tortured loners, using their music to communicate the complex emotions that they don't understand and cannot articulate. Therefore, the songs carry a mood -- a mood communicated from Arab Strap to you. And the mood of this album is more ... Happy. Introspective. Relaxed. On earlier releases the mood varied from depressed to angry to slightly sad. I guess life is looking up for the Arab Strap boys! Also of note for experimental instrumentation causing mood is Arms the Ram which features a harpsichord (or maybe a sample thereof) for a really eerie feeling.
On the whole, it is the instrumentation that really stands out on this album -- Arab Strap are experimenting with new song structures and different sounds. Plus, they apparently got a new drum machine and spent a lot of time fiddling with it getting neat sounds. The overall effect of that is to make the album have a vaguely "techno" feel to it. All of the songs feature little repetive beats in the background, almost buried under the guitars, organs, vocals, and other sounds.
Now, i know some people will read that and think, "Ack! Techno - thank you no!" But really, the beats behind the songs sound like slowed down disco beats, but that is where the similarity ends. Arab Strap are a BAND, not a couple of dudes with computers. They simply use that sort of beat to provide rhythm for their songs. They are NOT a dance band, in case you had ever wondered!
On the whole, this is another strong album from these boys. More upbeat and instrumental, sure, but the songs all flow together well. And all of the songs are entertaining and convey mood well. So if you listen to music to get an emotional kick, then this album should really pick you up!
The album is perfect for:
- chilling with friends at night
- sitting around on a sunny fall sunday procrastinating about writing your music reviews