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Members include Malcolm Middleton, guitar; Aidan Moffat, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Matador Records, 625 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York City, NY 10012, phone: (212) 995-5882, fax: (212) 995-5883. Website--Arab Strap Official Website: http://www.arabstrap.co.uk.
Arab Strap--the Scottish post-rock duo of vocalist Aidan Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton--first came to the attention of British rock fans in the mid 1990s with a repertoire that largely featured observations about bad sexual encounters, bad jobs, dying relationships, and drunkenness. Despite such subjects, Arab Strap has repeatedly won critical praises. The duo's songs--at once irreverent, heart-breaking, inventive, and visceral--have made them a favorite across Great Britain. "We're more original and more honest than most other bands," Middleton proclaimed in an interview for Scotland's Sunday Herald. "There's nothing to compare us with." A hallmark of the duo's music, according to longtime observers, has remained the juxtaposition of Middleton's elegant instrumentation aside Moffat's oftentimes sordid observations and conclusions.
Originally, Arab Strap served as the one-man band of Moffat, who started out making up self-indulgent tunes and playing two drums and a kazoo in his bedroom in Falkirk, Scotland. Meanwhile, Middleton, living nearby, was similarly busy playing guitar under the name the Laughing Stock. The two young men, knowing of each other for about five years, during which time they exchanged cassette tapes of their respective "bands," eventually joined forces in the summer of 1995. They decided to stick with Moffat's Arab Strap alias, a name he took from a sexual device he once saw in a catalog designed to enhance a man's masculinity.
Within a few months, Moffat and Middleton had secured a record deal with the hip Chemikal Underground label based in Glasgow, Scotland. Surprisingly, Arab Strap's sound bore little resemblance to the record company's roster of wall-of-sound guitar bands. Chemikal Underground, in the case of Moffat and Middleton, was relying more upon the fascination with Scottish urban culture as typified in the Irvine Welsh novel Trainspotting. Indeed, the pair's debut single, the stark, downcast "The First Big Weekend," about strawberry tonic wine and the Scottish football team losing the 1996 championship to England, featured simply a guitar and drum machine and made numerous references to Falkirk and Glasgow. It also became a huge British hit after airing on the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Radio One Evening Sessionprogram. Host Steve Lamacq declared "The First Big Weekend," later used as the soundtrack for a Guinness beer advertisement, the best record of the decade.
The 1996 single also served as a blueprint for the Arab Strap sound. While Middleton played intricate, yet minimal guitar lines and club-influenced beats, his bandmate muttered lyrics filled with invective and regret. His words were "simultaneously incoherent and articulate," according to the Sunday Herald, and spoken in an unashamed Scottish accent, providing an instant focus for the press and the public. In fact, the pair was soon dubbed the first post-Trainspotting band, a label they understandably loathed to accept because they were not trying to cash in on the book or the popular film adaptation.
In November of 1996 after selective live performances, Arab Strap issued their full-length debut, The Week Never Starts Round Here, featuring their prior single and their 1997 single "The Clearing." The album, too, received regular airplay and garnered favorable reviews in publications such as Melody Maker, New Musical Express (NME), and Vox, who declared: "These songs resonate like stuporous, intoxicated thoughts swimming around drunken heads. Strapping stuff." A few months later, in March of 1997, the duo returned with an EP entitled The Girls of Summer, which entered the British charts at number 74.
Later that year, they embarked on a busy three-week national tour, appearing with the likes of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, labelmates Mogwai, Gene, and Belle and Sebastian. In 1998, following a performance at the NME Brat Awards and scoring hits with "Holiday Girl," a reworking of David Holmes' "Don't Die Just Yet," and "Here We Go"/"Trippy," Arab Strap played a headlining gig at the University of London Union, their biggest date up to that point. Around the same time, their "Here We Go"/"Trippy" single reached number 47 on the charts.
In April of 1998, Arab Strap arrived with their second album, Philophobia, which entered the British charts at number 37. Filled with melancholy and plaintive loner realism, the recording led to critical comparisons to the Tindersticks and Joy Division. Moffat agreed, commenting, as quoted by Select magazine, "I don't think anyone in Britain since Joy Division has known how to make seriously depressing music." The album also garnered attention in the United States, winning a rave review in Rolling Stone. "Songwriters Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat obsess over the details of their romantic chaos and drunken stupors, setting their disillusionment to beautiful, uncluttered arrangements of guitar, organ and strings. Their spare, naked songs are majestic as a teary afternoon rainstorm, and invariably sad."
After completing a 20-show tour of Britain, Arab Strap decided to part ways with Chemikal Underground to sign a deal with London's Go! Beat Records. Their first album for the label, Mad For Sadness, recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, was released in January of 1999. Their next album, Elephant Shoe, arrived in September of 1999. Unlike their previous releases, the album displayed a newfound tenderness. "Elephant Shoe isn't happier, but it's maybe more optimistic," Moffat explained to the Sunday Herald. "It's certainly not as bitter. I just don't have the time to be bitter any more. There's a lot of stuff I never used that was just the usual ... hate. Aye, there were a few songs of just abject hate, but they all got dumped. Although it's a lot harder to be nice to people than to slag them off, I'll tell you."
Signing with DNA and Matador Records for distribution in the United States, Arab Strap released their fifth album, The Red Thread, in February of 2001. The album, whose title refers to an Eastern concept that suggests an invisible red thread links soul mates through time, includes notable tracks such as "The Long Sea" and "Love Detective."
by Laura Hightower
Arab Strap's Career
Formed in Falkirk, Scotland, signed with the Chemikal Underground label, 1995; released debut single "The First Big Weekend," followed by debut album The Week Never Starts Round Here, 1996; released Philophobia, 1998; signed with Go! Beat Records, released Elephant Shoe, 1999; released The Red Thread in the U.S. on Matador Records, 2001.
- Selected discography
- "The First Big Weekend," Chemikal Underground, 1996.
- The Week Never Starts Round Here Chemikal Underground, 1996.
- "The Clearing," Chemikal Underground, 1997.
- The Girls of Summer (EP), Chemikal Underground, 1997.
- "Here We Go"/"Trippy," Chemikal Underground, 1998.
- Philophobia Chemikal Underground, 1998.
- Mad For Sadness Go! Beat, 1999.
- Elephant Shoe Go! Beat, 1999.
- The Red Thread DNA/Matador, 2001.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, Virgin Encyclopedia of Indie & New Wave, Virgin Books, 1998.
- Melody Maker, October 11, 1997; November 15, 1997; December 13, 1997; February 7, 1998; March 28, 1998; April 4, 1998; April 11, 1998; April 25, 1998; September 26, 1998; October 17, 1998; August 28, 1999; May 8, 1999; September 11, 1999; September 25, 1999; October 2, 1999.
- Mojo, May 1999.
- New Musical Express (NME), September 4, 1999.
- Rolling Stone, September 3, 1998.
- Select, May 1998.
- Sunday Herald (Scotland), September 5, 1999.
- Village Voice, August 11, 1998.
- Vox, May 1998.
- Arab Strap Official Website, http://www.arabstrap.co.uk (May 28, 2001).
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