As Days Get Dark
CD/ DL/ Vinyl
Released Friday 5th March 2021
Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton get the band back together and deliver the first new Arab Strap album in 16 years. Andy Brown marvels at the dark majesty of As Days Get Dark and shares his thoughts for Louder Than War.
Arab Strap may not be glamorous pop stars – this probably isn’t a shock to many – but they sure know how to make an entrance. “I don’t give a fuck about the past or glory days gone by” begins Aidan Moffat as he cuts to the chase on The Turning Of Our Bones, “All I care about right now is that wee mole inside your thigh”. As Days Get Dark is the band’s first album in 16 years yet any weighty sense of expectation is shrugged off within the first minute. Malcolm Middleton’s brooding melody twists its way around Aidan’s familiar half sung, half spoken brogue pulling us gently yet purposefully back into the fold. This isn’t the sound of a band re-emerging into our world but an invitation to step back into theirs.
Of course, neither Moffat nor Middleton have been away; both artists have released a plethora of material since the Strap split. Amongst other releases Moffat has delivered collaborative albums with Scottish indie/jazz musician Bill Wells and Glaswegian guitar virtuoso RM Hubbert. Middleton has released albums under his own name as well under the pseudonym, Don’t Be Angry Human. The catalyst for new Strap material seems to have been the handful of gigs they performed in 2016. I was lucky enough to see their show at the Ritz in Manchester, a thoroughly stunning performance it was too. A few years and one worldwide pandemic later and the duo return with their first LP since 2005’s bittersweet swansong, The Last Romance.
Moffat always played the part of the perpetually intoxicated lover, the bedraggled bard of last orders and stolen snogs. Strap albums invoked both the excess and the aftermath (particularly the aftermath) of a big night out. Yet alongside the booze, fags and profanity of Moffat’s blurry eyed lyrical lens, there’s always been an emotional complexity. Every lyric sheet littered with love, lust, death, and wit. Above all else, Moffat is a natural and gifted storyteller. Tears On Tour finds him dreaming about touring the country, sat in a leather chair on stage and “telling tales of woe”. The attentive audience members are encouraged to indulge in one big collective cry while handkerchiefs emblazoned with tour dates are sold at the merch stall. Sounds like a good show to me.
As any Arab Strap fan will know, the album was never going to be a simple re-tread of past glories. Programmed beats and electronic embellishments blend seamlessly with lush string arrangements, post-rock guitars and throbbing grooves. With a torch in one hand and a pint in the other Moffat works his way through Middleton’s dark, tender, and nuanced soundtracks. The light and shade of Moffat’s words perfectly reflected in each carefully layered piece. Just take the unexpected squalling saxophones on the sublime Kebabylon; I can hear tiny bits of The Cure in the late-night atmosphere but ultimately it couldn’t be anyone but Arab Strap, “chasing down the ghosts of indiscretion and lust”.
While unmistakably the work of the duo we know and love, there’s a fine-tuning of the band’s sound and an admirable thirst for something fresh. Just listen to the ridiculously gorgeous folky experimentation of Fable Of The Urban Fox that finds Moffat viewing the world through the eyes of a hounded, restless, and bushytailed mammal. “One night they met a bulldog/ He said what you doing here then/ They told him of the red coats/ Of their fallen hunted brethren” sings an impassioned Moffat, “They said there is no going home now/ The land we love is cruel/ The dog said fuck-off back to Fox Land/ These streets are fucking full”. A fable for the times we live in and a window into the hostility and racism that casts a shadow over Brexit Britain.
From the dark electronica and gothic post-punk of Here Comes Comus! to the haunting textures of Sleeper and the almost uncomfortably intimate Another Clockwork Day, we’re flung into endless waking nights and the troubled hearts of lost, lonely souls. Yet cracks of light still shine through, whether that be the gentle cascading acoustic melody of Bluebird or Moffat’s irrepressible sense of humour. It’s hard not to picture him sat on stage in his big leather chair, the audience hanging on his every word. “And as he silently approaches the bedroom door he wonders, as always” Moffat muses on the string laden I Was Once A Weak Man “If maybe he’s getting too old for this but as always, he concludes/ Well, Mick Jagger does it and he’s older than me”.
What makes the reunion even more special is the feeling that they quite happily could have left Arab Strap to the annals of indie history. They’ve come back completely on their own terms and delivered an album bursting with renewed purpose and creativity. Back from the grave and ready to rave. It’s a deeply immersive album from beginning-to-end; like a good book, it’s almost impossible to put As Days Get Dark down once you’ve started. That poetic mix of darkness, melancholy, romance, and unflinching honesty that has always been an Arab Strap speciality. Reaching out through the bleakness to offer a hand to hold as days get dark.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.