Someone once said that suffering breeds great art, but I wonder what they would have made of a year spent dealing with a global pandemic. For 20 years, Arab Strap dabbled in a dimly lit blend of sordid lyricism, arched melodies, and electronic rhythms, so it seems appropriate that they make their return during these bleak times with their first album in 15 years. But while the duo—singer Aidan Moffat and guitarist Malcolm Middleton—was in the midst of working on the album when the pandemic hit the UK, As Days Get Dark (Rock Action Records) is not a COVID record, though you can hear it in that context at times. Instead, it explores the themes that have always informed the Scottish band’s work, namely the intimate affairs of the heart and the despair that they wreak.
As Days Get Dark begins with lead single “The Turning of Our Bones” and the verse, “I don’t give a fuck about the past, our glory days gone by. All I care about right now is that wee mole inside your thigh,” showing Moffat’s knack for a strong opening line hasn’t diminished in the intervening years. The song serves as an invocation of sorts, with Aidan commanding, “Let’s not be bashful!” Of course, he’s never had that problem, and here, the record is all the better for it. Whether exploring “all the ways our earthly bodies work” on “Compersion, Pt.1” or the paradox of wanting and not wanting someone on “Bluebird,” where he sings, “I don’t want your love, I need your love. Give me your love, don’t love me,” Moffat doesn’t shy away from poking at emotional scars, whether personal or fictional. As Days Get Dark seems custom-made for these times, even if it doesn’t ever address our collective woe head on. Instead, the album provides a balm of sorts, its minor keys and ill-at-ease protagonists somehow soothing our own miseries. The past year has been a rough one indeed, but there perhaps couldn’t be a better silver lining than getting a new Arab Strap album this piquant and powerful at end of it.