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Happy To Be Sad

Arab Strap
Elephant Shoe
(Jetset/Chemikal Underground)

I'm not in a relationship right now, but listening to these fellow from Scotland makes me want to get into a self-defeating one with a nasty breakup, just so I can identify with their music more. Aidan Moffat is perhaps the most straightforward lyricist I've heard in a long time and even though it ends up being kind of raw some of the time, it's refreshing as hell. He doesn't skirt the issues on anything and when he's singing (or rather slurring and slogging) his way through them, you can't help but wish you could pull up a chair alongside him and share a drink while talking about the travails of relationships.

The music of the group has never been punchy either, but it also stands as perfect accompaniment to the tales of woe. With simple drum machines, some guitar work and an occassional other instrument, none of the tracks really fall into a catchy category. They're engaging, though, and that's really what work by the Arab Strap is about. Sure, you might end up singing along to their music, but it's not something you'll be belting out in the shower, rather it's something you might be mumbling along with under your breath as you go to bed alone again on a Saturday night.

I've mentioned the lyrics above, but I feel that I need to mention them again for this album especially. While the first release by the group (The Week Never Starts Round Here) had moments of hope, their second album Philophobia (and even their recent live album Mad For Sadness were completely somber affairs, with nary a ray of light at all. However slight it is, there's a measured optimism in some of the lyrics on the release that make the weight of things just a little easier to bear.

The disc actually starts out with a track that might be a little misleading in both sound and vocals. Not only does "Cherubs" have a thumping mid-tempo drum machine beat and some nice acoustic guitar sprinkled with piano, but Moffat actually sounds optimistic about relationships for once. Of course, that doesn't last for very long and the very next track (although also quiet beautiful musically) takes on acusations of a lover and he doesn't hold back the harsh language at all. Even though the music is light, his slurred plea of "just shut the fuck up" rings harshly.

The rest of the album follows in some of the same manner, and even though the songs are fairly stripped-down in terms of sound, the group has again managed to make things interesting. Moffats lyrics are also just seem a bit more solid this time around. Although he still does his usual slagging and there is still self-demeaning parts, they feel even more like something that you've thought at one point if you've ever been in a relationship. In "Autumnal," he speaks of future plans for a relationship as if it's going to last forever while he goes on about the over-emotional moments after having too many in "The Drinking Eye." If you've heard the group and like their mope style, you're defintely not going to go wrong here while also being the most accesible album for who haven't. Oh, and if you haven't figured the title, try mouthing the words in a mirror and watch what it sounds like you're saying. Perfect for those who don't want to say it out loud.

Rating: 7.25