Arab Strap is one of those groups that I never think I will ever get excited about again, yet nearly every time I hear one of their releases, it seems like they just keep getting better and better. In all honestly, I rarely dive into their back catalogue to listen to various recordings that they've made. Despite continuing to expand their sound palette, my favorite release that they've put out is still the unrelentingly downer Philophobia, despite it being the least musically adventurous. Even though I've moved past the more bitter parts of my life, there's something about the biting, almost spitting lyrics and funeral pace of the disc that draws me in.
Truth be told, it's probably their first disc of The Week Never Starts Around Here The Red Thread that changed things up the most up to this point. The former was their somewhat ramshackle debut, with a handfull of toss-offs and a couple stunners ("The First Big Weekend" most notibly), while the latter found the group really starting to spread their wings in the rhythm department, as well as enlisting a wider range of musicians (including very nice flourishes of strings).
Monday At The Hug And Pint contines down the road of adding even more instrumentation, and even though there are a few tracks that find them treading the same old ground, there are enough slight changes to win over some new fans along with keeping second-guessing listeners (myself somewhat included) interested in their baby-step progression. The disc opens with a soft housey beat on "The Shy Retirer," and the track is layered with strings, keyboards, and acoustic guitars while Aidan Moffat adds his usual droll vocals (including one of his best lines ever of "you know I'm always moanin' / but you jumpstart my seratonin"). "Meanwhile, At The Bar, A Drunkard Muses" follows it up with a rather short toss-off before "Fucking Little Bastards" brings a load of distorted percussion and grimey guitars that fittingly back what is probably the most lyrically bitter track on the disc.
It's around the middle section of the disc that things really hit their stride, though. "Flirt" mixes some playful guitars with programmed beats while one Mr. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes sings backup (and producer/musician extraordinaire Mike Mogis adds some haunting lap steel). Although the bagpipe seems to have been overused as heck for flavor, the group even adds it as a nice touch on the two part "Lock Leven." "Serenade" starts out with one of the groups typical rinky-dink drum programming sounds, but eventually the track layers quite nicely, adding strings and guitars before the programming folds in on itself and the sound of fireworks crackle to end things.
The overall lyrical themes aren't too far removed (actually, not at all) from what you'd expect from the group. There are still plenty of tales of woe and wronged love and drunken stumblings, as could be expected from an album garnering its name from a Pub. Along the same lines, though, are some moments of hope, such as on "The Weekend Never Starts Round Here," a bar sing-along if I've ever heard one from the group. Moffat even sounds like he's smiling when singing, which is a rarity in itself. This isn't a group that probably isn't ever going to step out and do something drastically different, but the slight new wrinkles that show up with every release at least make them pretty damn consistently engaging.