The Red Thread

Arab Strap

Matador Records, 2001


REVIEW BY: Jason Thornberry


With refined minimalism, and/or miserablism, Falkirk, Scotland's Arab Strap follow up their recent live album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Mad For Sadness with a better recording using their usual cheap-o drum machines that sound quite like they're sampled from my grandma's organ. That's actually a compliment, because the vintage, lo-budget quality puts them officially in GBV land (Guided By Voices), and that's seldom a bad place to be. Arab Strap's sluggish, bleary-eyed tempos approach NYC's sadly departed Swans, but they've proven to be a more tuneful predecessor. Swans Michael Gira and Strap's Aidan Moffat both sound as though they spent the past year in bed, but Arab Strap seem to feel a bit more comfortable around pop music than the Swans ever got (including 1987's brilliant Children of God).

The die hard Strap fan is probably close enough to the music not to notice that The Red Thread is a wee bit darker than 1998's Philophobia or Elephant Shoe (2000). The warmer recording this time brings swollen eyes in line with the 00's, but what is ever to be expected of these rogues? Lighters-aloft love ballads? Bombast? Joy? They do a fantastic, sobbing, beery ballad, but it usually comes across as far too real, too authentic to get covered by Ricky Martin.

If you took the passionate audio discharge of…Discharge, slowed waaay down, turn those buzzing guitars into The Hugest and Last Piano on Earth and make the brazen cries of "Why!?!" into stuttered, drunken mutterings of "Wha?"... Almost there. The Red Thread is an album that's too good to be quickly summed up. You'll get different things from this almost every time you hear it. Your overall state of mind is vital.

Rating: A

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