by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Arab Strap - "New Birds" [from Philophobia]
Arab Strap - "New Birds" (live) [from Mad for Sadness]
Arab Strap - "The First Big Weekend" [from The Week Never Starts Round Here]

Earlier this week, Arab Strap announced that they were not going to be recording more music together. "we simply feel," they write, "we've run our course". They were one of the most singular bands of the 1990s and one of the finest Scotland ever produced. They were - and are, as they will be touring in support of a compilation due late in October, - small, crude, beautiful, honest, free, lonely, wild, fucked, shining. Aidan Moffatt murmuring scuffed late-night stories into a microphone; Malcolm Middleton, head bowed, asking his guitar to sound nice. A very strange mix, Malcolm's golden playing and Moffatt's brown-sauce confessions. But a singular one, yes. A fine one. One of those precise musics that catches a person at just the right time and then leaves a mark. You don't forget the moments when Arab Strap was playing exactly what you felt.

My favourite Arab Strap song is "New Birds". Usually my favourite version is the one from the studio, released on the LP called Philophobia. It's about a reunion: a man and a woman meeting after a long time apart. And it captures the perfect glint of a perfect kind of melancholy; the precise gleam of a why-am-i-sad. Moffatt's narrative can at first seem off-the-cuff but no, it's not. Listen to each act, the balance of contemplation and deed. Which moments linger in his tale? The meeting; the walk; that moment face-to-face; the having-parted. "You can see her breath in the air between your faces as you stand in the leaves and she just asks you straight out if you want to come and stay in her flat / But you make sure you get separate taxis." None of the in-between. That's always the part you can't remember. It's the having-done that roars in your chest as you lie in your bed or sit in the dark. As you stare at yourself in the mirror. As the electric guitars rise, yellow.

The live version of "New Birds" is sometimes my favourite. The tom and bass drum hit harder. The crescendo at the end is Mogwai-heavy, full of something much closer to regret. An anger that needs to be played out in full.

And "The First Big Weekend"? It was, and remained, their biggest hit. What kind of hit is this?! Ah, Scotland. It rambles. It drifts. And it moves - forward, forward, forward, on and on, just like that first big weekend, you know the one, you know the one, months ago, and you - just like Aidan - walked through the park and took a shortcut through the playground. All the colours are here: the colour of a man talking just as he gulps down some beer (0:46); the colour of the first violet blush of the night (0:56); the colour of a man pretending he doesn't care (2:07); the colour of a man regretting having been too mean (3:13); the colour of summer's wafting love (4:00). All the colours. It's what scientists call a rain-bow.

Thank you, lads.

[buy things]

Posted by Sean at September 13, 2006 3:00 AM


Posted by vivouk at September 13, 2006 10:06 AM

i was beyond sad when i heard about these guys splitting...as far as i'm concerned they could keep doing what they do forever....i can only imagine the good stuff they would produce once they hit their silver years.....

as far as i'm concerned, they are the sound of Fall....it sounds like road trips and leaves turning and grey skies and hot chocolate at a gas station and your favorite people all wearing their favorite sweaters and first of the season runny noses and late night make out sessions and standing in line in the frigid cold waiting to get into a show....

oh, and the times i've seen them play they were real deal sweethearts...authentic as fuck....if europe has anything like southern hospitality, it must've originated in glasgow....

Posted by Adam at September 13, 2006 6:23 PM

I bought that debut single. Found it dull, which is much worse than hating it. Sold it for $10, thinking cleverly I'd take advantage of the band's momentary hipness. Oopsie. Last I heard it was going for $50. Yeah, fifty clams: http://www.popsike.com/php/detaildata.php?itemnr=4806632596

I downloaded this version to remind myself. Still dull; I don't get what you kids see in it. The only moment I ever liked this was on a transatlantic flight piped over that old system in which sound was, literally, piped through hollow plugs. In that medium, its shallow nothingness appears to hide something deeper.

I was open to thinking my opinion sour grapes until I played the mp3 again. That simply convinces me I was right the first time around. A band named for Anglo slang for a strap-on ought to have been something. Sorry they weren't.

Posted by wcw at September 13, 2006 6:46 PM

great song choices!

Posted by Susan at September 15, 2006 1:26 AM

Hey. I like these a whole lot, they're beautiful songs. Thanks.

Posted by Janika at September 15, 2006 10:15 AM

I hadn't heard 'Little Birds' before. Sean, right as ever - great track. But I'm not convinced that it's superior to 'The Shy Retirer'.

Posted by fiona at September 15, 2006 7:31 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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