Credit where credit’s due. After years of avoiding Arab Strap, my friend Laura finally convinced me to give them a deeper listen. Quickly, I snapped up Monday at the Hut & Pig and a handful of singles. Since then they’ve become more of a mainstay in my rotation. Then, in 2021, they released As Days Get Dark and it absolutely blew my mind.
Their First Studio Album in 15+ Years
Prior to As Days Get Dark, Arab Strap hadn’t released a studio album since The Last Romance in 2005. Aside from the giant gaping hole in their output, the band has been creating and releasing music since the mid 1990s. Featuring Aiden Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, the pair originated from Falkirk, Scotland.
Arab Strap’s music has always found a welcome home in lyrics centered around “drink, drugs, and existentially bereft versions of sexuality” (Wikipedia). While As Days Get Dark picks these themes right back up with a little less focus on the drink and drugs, though their presence remains in the background.
As Days Get Dark Limited Edition
Looking back at Arab Strap’s earlier releases, I was hard pressed to find anything on limited edition colored vinyl, so seeing that with As Days Get Dark piqued my interest. Not just that, my copy is on clear wax with a cool looking black splotch in the center.
Given Arab Strap’s penchant for often self-deprecating and overtly sexual lyrics and thematics, the dark element reigns here. It’s like a splotch of oil tainting the clear, pure water. Or a shadow conversing over the purity of the moon.
Likewise, the cover shows images of works of art on a computer screen, yet underneath you get a glimpse of a pornographic image. Lyrics are scripted in a JSON document on the printed inner sleeve, and the track listing is as well on the outer back.
Let’s take a look at the cover art, which is quite brilliant if you ask me:
These elements all tie to the lyrics of “Another Clockwork Day” in which Arab Strap frontman Aiden Moffat recounts longing of the days before widespread live cams and video pornography sites:
For the second time this week, he plugs in the external drive
He clicks through his archive to find a folder he needs
He knows this path well…
IMG4329, the flushed flesh of new love in summerLyrics from “Another Clockwork Day”
The couples drawn, the sun secluded and a gift that fits
Compersion Pt. 1
In addition to the aforementioned “Another Clockwork Day” you have songs like “Compersion Pt. 1” which finds the protagonist and his partner picking up a “unicorn” bride and groom for some play yet Moffat sings that “exclusion jealousy won.” There’s some interesting context here, and it’s steeped in consensual non-monogamy.
The term compersion was coined and defined in the early 1990s by the Kerista community, a San Francisco-based polyamorous group that has since disbanded, as the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves. In the context of consensually non-monogamous romantic and sexual relationships, compersion refers to the empathetic feeling of joy one experiences when their partner takes pleasure from another relationship.From the “How did it come about” section of the What is Compersion? website
“Compersion Pt. 1” was the first song I heard from the new LP, and I was immediately hooked. The electronic beat fronted by Moffat’s Scottish half-spoken, half-sung drawl instantly drew me in. But what about the rest of the album?
Best of 2021
If you follow FensePost, you may have seen that As Days Get Dark made my Best of 2021 list. Songs like “Kebabylon” and “The Turning of Our Bones” helped propel the album into a top 3 position on the list.
There are so many great tunes here, and Moffat’s vocals have been honed quite a bit since The Last Romance; they aren’t as off-kilter. They’re more in tune. Dare I say that makes them a bit more melodic? I think so.
Take a listen to “Fable of the Urban Fox” for further proof of this:
Aphelion: A Hint of More Coming Soon
In addition to “Compersion Pt. 1” hinting that there may be a Part 2 in the mix, Arab Strap recently released a few new tracks on a brand new 7-inch single called Aphelion on March 4, 2022. “Aphelion” and b-side “Flutter” pick up a lot of the musical elements from Arab Strap’s return: more melodic vocals and solid instrumentation. This should be no surprise given what Moffat said about them:
These two songs were written, recorded and mixed during the sessions for As Days Get Dark but as much as we loved them, we couldn’t find a place for them on the final album. Maybe it’s because they seem to have their own distinct identities, but sometimes a song just sounds better on its own, when it’s not part of a crowd and vying for attention. So, to celebrate the anniversary of the album’s release, we present As Days Get Dark’s two runaway loners; a couple of black sheep who might not click with the rest of the family but, even though they aren’t very happy, are still worth a cuddle.Aiden Moffat on the songs from the Aphelion 7″ Single
What’s your favorite Arab Strap album and song? I’d love to know. Drop a note in the comments!