Arab Strap took sixteen years off and now bring themselves back as an undeniable voice in 2021, as Joy Division and LCD Soundsystem and numerous intangibles meet on As The Days Get Dark. The inimitable Aidan Moffat says it best on opening track “The Turning of Our Bones”:
Tonight we salsa, we rave.
There is no particular dance that can capture exactly what happens on As The Days Get Dark. (And, holy god, let’s take a moment to recognize how catchy that track is. Did they get lost?)
Not all songs present a reason to dance. Malcolm Middleton will be damned if As The Days Get Dark stays bright, and Moffat will be damned if the album stays predictable. On second track “Another Clockwork Day” he details exactly what the title says: another clockwork day in the life, listing off file names as someone wistfully looks through their computer’s backlog of photos. This transitions into a guitar riff that wouldn’t have found itself out of place on LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream. It is quintessential Arab Strap; a distillation of the band down to its finest form.
The songs on As The Days Get Dark are songs of loneliness and a little bit of desperation. Aidan Moffat isn’t exactly one for emoting on record, but he sounds downright beat on this record. It never quite feels wrong because of the driving melodies behind him, and his on-point exultations: “I think we just need a drink,” he almost whispers on album standout “Compersion Pt. 1.” It is followed immediately by “Bluebird”, which features a lilting guitar melody and some of Moffat’s best vocal work since—well, only since 2005’s The Last Romance, which seems a lifetime ago, but may have been his best turn in the time Arab Strap have been a band. He seeks, perpetually, to upstage himself.
It seems appropriate that As The Days Get Dark would land in 2021, amid an epidemic and one of the most interesting times music has offered us. Underground types and record-crate digging professionals will tell you that Arab Strap’s Philophobia is one of the best records of the 1990s, if not the best record of the 1990s, and there are echoes of exactly that decade, and the 1980s (see the insistent Casio “tick tick, clap, tick tick” of the hilariously-named “Kebabylon”), and the 1970s (late at the cut-off, but we talked about Joy Division already, and that’s to say nothing of some of the jazz flourishes). As the Days Get Dark is, wonderfully, not content on staying still.
Aidan Moffat, bless him, on As The Days Get Dark remains one of the sleaziest, most unpredictable lyricists in all of music. His delivery is what you’d expect, and quite uniform throughout the album. It is impossible to talk about an Arab Strap album without taking a look at what Moffat has to say, and thankfully, right on-brand, there’s a lot of it. He shows some vulnerability, talking about crying into drinks over loves lost, grandfathers gone blind, grandmothers passed away, musicals, books, rom-coms…the list goes on, and it would be a disservice to spoil it for you. “What would you call the opposite of a comedian? Whatever it is, that’s what I’m wanting to be.” Is he playing a character? Is this the genuine article?
As The Days Get Dark is the genuine article. It is Arab Strap at their Arab Strappiest, at a time where the world can absolutely use an Arab Strap album. It gives us something to think about, something to dig into, something to lose ourselves in—if only for a blissfully bleak, unpredictable forty-eight minutes.