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Arab Strap 

Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador)

Few bands have captured the feeling of love turning from sugar to shit as succinctly as Scotland's Arab Strap. In the past, Aidan Moffat's swaggered rants about cheating, jealousy, and other ways relationships go wrong have maintained a brutal honesty that holds no punches. But that has changed with their latest album, Monday at the Hug & Pint.

Distancing themselves from past efforts, the duo (Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton) ease up on the spoken-word lectures, shifting their focus toward the dance beats and string arrangements of "The Shy Retirer," the orchestral lullabies of "Fucking Little Bastards," and "Loch Leven," where a bagpipe intro morphs into a somber acoustic serenade. Here, Moffat shifts from his usual heavily accented, drunk-sounding tirades to more straightforward singing, which is still difficult to decipher. Moreover, it sounds as if he's less miserable. Indeed, a hopeful pessimism emerges, even with such lovelorn revelations as "I wrote your name with fireworks in the sky, but you never turned up to see it" ("Serenade"). Finally, Arab Strap delivers something more than cry-in-your-beer music, although it bears a resemblance to Scottish stout: It's distinct and substantive, and even when it's dark, it's still refreshing.

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