Arab Strap - The Red Thread
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Arab Strap
The Red Thread

A couple years ago when I heard their sophomore release Philophobia, I thought they might be a one shot (actually two-shot since their debut The Week Never Starts Around Here came out only a couple months previous to it) group. Not only were they pretty unconventional (sluggishly slow) in sound, but singer Aidan Moffat spewed forth enough sordid tales of wronged love and bad sex on the first two albums that I wondered if he could possibly come up with anything else to say. I figured that they'd either change styles drastically within an album or so, or they'd simply fade away.

Fortunately, they didn't do either of those things, and to my surprise they not only released another excellent full-length album (last years Elephant Shoe), but pulled off what would seem to be a rather difficult live album (given their rather sparse and quiet sound) with flying colors in Mad For Sadness. In actuality, the group hasn't really changed their sound at all, but they've still managed to keep things fresh with slight variations on a sound. They're still melancholy for the most part on The Red Thread, but have again done what would seem to be unlikely, which is release another full-length batch of songs about relationships and the sort. Like last years Elephant Shoe, there are glimmers of hope, and even the title is a reference to Eastern theology in which it's said that there is an invisible red thread that holds lovers together.

The disc actually starts out in a barebones fashion for the group on "Amor Veneris," with only an acoustic guitar and some quiet piano and bass accompanying the soft vocals of Moffat. Perfectly fitting the last verse lyrics of "It's best in the morning/when we know it won't be rushed," his voice sounds like he's a bit confused after waking and pleading to his lover. Things go in exactly the opposite direction on the second track "Last Orders" with a large, distorted beat and some swirling, layered keyboards and a pretty guitar melody to back up the chorus. It's one of the loudest tracks to date that the group has done and they take off in sort of the same direction again later in the album on the shambling piano and distorted beat and vocals of "Love Detectives."

Along the way, though, they have some of their usual languid paced tracks like "The Devil Tip" and the "Long Sea," but offset them with drum machine flavored tracks like "Scenery" and "Infrared." Most of them work pretty well, despite not really being anything too different than what the group has done before, but they close things out in amazing fashion with the last three tracks on the release. "Screaming In The Trees" is the simplest of the three, coming in with only the slurry voice of Moffat and some electric guitar accompanyment before some stringed instruments emphasize things a touch at the end. "Turbulence" closes out the album at an epic length with a thick drum machine beat and some excellent guitar work, but the highlight is still "Haunt Me," a string-drenched track with Adele Bethel on backup vocals that is probably the most beautiful single song that the group has ever done both lyrically and musically. Seriously, it's that good.

If you like other work that the group has done, you're definitely not going to go wrong here. In fact, it's actually probably now their most accessible album, as they change things up a lot more than they have with past releases, implementing different sounds in nearly every track and the tracks are placed pretty well too, giving you more of an up and down ride instead of a flat path (which works even better when placed next to the rollercoaster rides that are most relationships). If they're going to keep surprising me by releasing excellent albums, I for one am not going to argue.

rating: 7.7510
Aaron Coleman 2003-06-19 00:00:00