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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Arab Strap
The Last Romance
Transdreamer Records

Rating: 9/10 ?


February 14, 2006
Arab Strap come on quick. The sudden rush of piano and simulated strings at the beginning of "Dream Sequence" is unexpectedly intense. It comes on like love, overwhelming you with a building euphoria that makes your head swim violently. You want to drown and disappear in the song's lush, swirling instrumentation, but something won't let you. It's those lyrics, and their troubling honesty.

Writing with incredible candor about lovers that grow old together, that get through all the shit by simply practicing how to "...master our technique," Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat has artfully rendered a case study of the modern relationship. With lines like, "Make me giggle in your sleep and I can dream that you're a slut," and "Tomorrow you can tell me all the things you've done with boys/blushing as you as recant tales to satisfy my see-through ploys," Moffat strips away all artiface and leaves his characters as naked as Adam and Eve. Boozy and conversational, Moffat's delivery adds dark nuance to every word, like a less literate, but more surgical Nick Cave. Put your mask on. We're about to enter a seedy, disease-filled world where it's necessary to "Burn the sheets we've just fucked in."

That last bit comes from "Stink," the thrilling, dramatic opener to The Last Romance, the sixth album from Scottish gloom merchants Arab Strap. Like "Dream Sequence," it starts abruptly, with electric guitar circling like a buzzard over a couple " ... that's gotten so good at presuming," having engaged in sexual acts where dominant and submissive roles constantly change. Growing in urgency, "Stink," with its seamy scenary and poisonous atmosphere, takes an angry turn when vicious, cutting guitar salvos are unleashed. It's quite a change from the slow-building post-folk of previous Arab Strap efforts. Those used to the more methodical approach taken previously by Arab Strap might find The Last Romance a bit disconcerting. That was Moffat's intention.

Reports say Moffat and his more musically inclined partner, Malcolm Middleton, disagreed over the direction of The Last Romance. Moffat favored a more visceral sound, whereas Middleton wanted something darker and more moody. The immediacy and electrically charged atmosphere of The Last Romance lets you know who won. Like Calla's 2005 release Collisions, The Last Romance is a picture of a band coming into sharper focus, and yet the band's latest compositions, still black as ever, have a fluidity and ease of motion that speaks to the level of craftsmanship involved. The galloping rhythms, as heavy as rain clouds, and soaring synthesizer of "(If There's) No Hope For Us" and "Don't Ask Me To Dance" recall Joy Division or Echo And The Bunnymen at the height of their melodic powers. Folkier numbers like "Confessions Of A Big Brother," with its deep, sinking cello and circuitious acoustic guitar and internal crisis inspired lyrics like "Sometimes there's nothing sexier than knowing that you're doomed," is vintage Birthday Party.

Arab Strap can still kill you softly with slow-motion angst, like in "Come Round And Love Me." The male-female duet comes off like Cave and Kylie Minogue, but the depressive ebb-and-flow of the music has more in common with the cinematic arrangements of the Tindersticks. But tracks like this, and the odd, lonely accordion wheeze of "Chat In Amsterdam, Winter 2003," are less frequent than in older Arab Strap works. More common are the quickening indie-rock tempos and noisy, post-punk guitars of songs like "Speed-Date," and just for kicks, there's even a nod to Sgt. Pepper with the brassy horns of the epic closer "There Is No Ending." And then there's "Dream Sequence." Built around a lovely piano coda and slashing electric guitar, it swoons and falls like a woman in a luminous white gown jumping off a cliff into the sharp rocks and crashing, white-capped waves below. It's heartbreaking and joyful at the same time, a life-affirming mix of contradicting emotions and stunning music.

Triumphant, bitter, despondent, but never false or insincere, The Last Romance is one of the early great listens of 2006. Even the lackluster bonus tracks don't detract from the overall grandeur of what is sure to be considered Arab Strap's finest hour. There is romance, but it's heat is tempered by Moffat's penetrating psycho-analysis and his refusal to sugarcoat anything. Musically, The Last Romance is intoxicating. It's the sound of tragedy and resolution, and the almost desperate search for redemption and something, anything resembling happiness, and I could die in its arms.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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