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. But that has changed (or at least been put on hold) with the 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 of the past, shifting their focus toward the dance beats and string arrangements of "The Shy Retirer" and "Loch Leven," where a bagpipe intro morphs into a somber acoustic serenade. Here Moffat shifts from his usual heavily accented, drunken-sounding tirades to more-straightforward singing, which is still difficult to decipher. Still, it appears he's not as miserable -- one reason to be pissed off as a listener since, in the case of Arab Strap, one man's misery has always been another's delight. Instead, a hopeful pessimism emerges even with lovelorn revelations like "I wrote your name with fireworks in the sky, but you never turned up to see it" ("Serenade"). One can't mistake Monday for cry-in-your-beer music, although it bears a resemblance to Scottish stout: It's distinct and substantive, and even when dark, it's still refreshing.
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