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Slap an Arab Strap on it, and make some multi-instrumental music

A few years ago, you might have been forgiven for deciding that Arab Strap was a very entertaining one-trick pony. Their main selling point was the way singer (the term is used loosely here) Aidan Moffat depicted one of the saddest, sleaziest social lives in the contemporary

Arab Strap
pop music world. In an addled, booze-soaked burr, he would mumble glumly about one-night stands and sexual humiliation in verses that contained a surprising blend of insight, candor, and gutter humor - when you could make out what he was saying.

On the new Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador), their fifth studio album, the duo continues on a path toward musical arrangements as dense and murky as Moffat's mumblings, only prettier. Most of this work is done by multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton, who programs synthetic drum beats and drapes the bedroom ballads in lively strings and muted trumpets. What was previously a hungover dirge becomes a dance anthem for the romantically disillusioned. What's more, Moffat seems to have lightened up just a bit: He is practically giddy in "The Shy Retirer," where he woos a lass by croaking "you know I'm always moanin'/but you jump-start my serotonin."

Middleton goes far enough on Monday to accomplish what seemed impossible on previous albums: He

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makes Moffat's voice just another part of the landscape. On "Fucking Little Bastards," Middleton plants a jungle of big, tribal drum beats and staticky guitars; Moffat goes hacking into it, and finds a clearing here and there, but spends most of his time engulfed in the foliage. "Flirt" is cleaner, with a nimble acoustic guitar and minimalist drum line accompanying the singer through the song's first half; smack in the middle, the beat grows more insistent and a piano keeps ascending and retreating, climaxing in a bum-bum-bumadumdum beat that kicks the song into high gear.

How the pair will pull this kind of thing off live, without the benefit of multitracking and familiar bartenders, remains to be seen. But advance recon indicates that their strategy involves a cover of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," reminding one how important a sense of humor is when dealing with a disappointing love life. •

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