Brooding electronic-rock for turbulent times
There have been few albums in the past year with as solid of an opening as Arab Strap’s latest record, As Days Get Dark. Although the Scottish duo have been active since reforming their band in 2016, this is their first album in 16 years.
“The Turning of Our Bones” is both sardonic and cold, with the lyrics reiterating a sense of impending doom—even in their lyric video for the song they playfully toy with the tone, prescribing their own instrumentals as “ominous” and “apocalyptic.” Combining electronic synthesizers with guitar solos, strings, saxophones and bongos, the sound rages forward, blazing a way for a new sound and cryptic outlook of the times ahead of us. The lead single forges an incredibly dense amount of energy within its five-minute running time. Refusing to capitulate to the entropy within sound, it embraces it and reinvents a sort of hybrid sound that can not be seen as anything less than a thesis for Arab Strap’s most recent work.
However, even beyond the opening single, the album’s thematic ties are so strong that its more experimental instrumentals are embraced within it. “Compersion Pt. 1” has much more groove and funk-inspired sound to it. Compared to many instrumental breaks, it’s lyricality shines. It reflects a picture of societal decay over it, painting the soundscape with a sort of perverted beauty: its chord progressions consistently emphasizing the dark undertones of it. While undeniably influenced by the sort of groove essential to earlier rock, it maintains a sense of moral depravity that seems to be embraced in this current time of social turmoil.
Perhaps the most poignant of this concept is in “Here Comes Comus!,” a song which reflects the mythological character of the same name who was representative of chaos and entropy. In the point of view of the “false enchanter,” the chorus reiterates the pressure of this character, urging its listener to “take a sip” and “take a hit” before eventually succumbing to its primal instincts. While by no means an uplifting song, the song hits a timeless perception of the human condition—the depiction of suffering and the temptations it brings. An embrace of this character reflects the album’s embrace of chaos itself, using its sound to further its message.
“Bluebird” reflects a much more toned-down depiction of sexual fantasy. Comparing his love interest with a helpless bird, the stripped instrumentals are reminiscent of an acoustic ballad. A trick to the ear, the song could be mistaken for a love song. The birdsong of the bluebird is sampled within it, furthering its disconnect between the instrumentals and its lyricality. Juxtaposition of sounds reiterate the central idea without making it seem out of place. A valuable part of the record maintains underlying discomfort, despite its wider range of influences.
Truly, “I Was Once a Weak Man” sounds remarkably modern in its sound. Underlying strings are mixed with distorted synth, consistently breaking the peaceful nature of its instrumentals. Even when the strings are given its own solo, other rock elements overlap them, breaking the illusion of safety. Infecting the pure sound, Arab Strap proves the true power of their talents. Reiterating a sort of politics associated with middle-age masculinity, the contagion of power overtakes him, allowing him to release into sexual pleasure. It is both disturbing and speaks volumes on the talents of the band to use disparate instruments into a uniquely morbid sound.
While As Days Get Dark certainly is a dark record, it is by no means inaccessible. Its refusal to depict life as something not related to suffering is admirable, and every note is purposeful and impactful in its purpose. It is an exploration of the deepest fears and primal instincts in a highly poignant way, leaving its listeners with a sort of moral questioning beyond the tracklist. Truly, there have been few albums this year that commit so deeply to its themes while simultaneously bringing a highly replaying hybrid-blend of rock and electronica to the fore. There are few albums that depict such turbulent times almost effortlessly.