Farewell Sorrow

When he's mentioned at all, little-known Scottish singer-songwriter Alasdair Roberts is nearly always compared to Will Oldham. Though accurate to a degree, the juxtaposition doesn't allow Roberts (leader of the now-defunct Appendix Out) a real place of his own. Both performers use minimal instrumentation and unpolished voices to explore their respective countries' folk tradition, but Roberts has a clearer sense of reverence for the past: His first solo album, The Crook Of My Arm, paid tribute to Scottish folk songs, and bits of his new Farewell Sorrow borrow the odd melody or lyric, as well. To the heritage, he adds his own compositions and voice, both of which teeter on edges that modern music usually doesn't allow. They may be an acquired taste, but spare and simple songs like "Slowly Growing Old" and the title track reward patience. Both evoke the sound of an old country that most young Scots probably don't even recognize, but they do so with reverence and grace, and never with tongue in cheek. The Scottish accents on Arab Strap's records are equally thick, but the atmosphere evokes the seedy bars of Trainspotting more than the country's rolling, foggy hills. In fact, Monday At The Hug & Pint refers to one of the band's favorite watering holes, and from the sound of the album, Arab Strap principals Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have spent time there face-down on the bar. Singer-songwriter Moffat continues to showcase his unlovable-loser persona on the band's fifth set, but unlike on 2001's The Red Thread, he doesn't get bogged down in misery and despair: A wicked sense of humor and a more expansive musical palette help balance it out. That's not to say that Monday isn't another assiduously dour and depressing set, because it is. "Glue" describes a sexless union ("You'll hate every morning and dread every night"), "Act Of War" covers a two-way abusive relationship ("Why does she always have bruises?"), and the titles of "Meanwhile, At The Bar, A Drunkard Muses" and "Fucking Little Bastards" pretty well explain themselves. But musically, aided by a semi-permanent string section, Arab Strap unshackles itself from the sameness that threatens to bog it down: Disco beats meet swelling strings, and distorted bagpipes give way to slowly crashing guitars. A few guests help add layers, including Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mogwai's Barry Burns, but most of the credit for Monday At The Hug & Pint's morose success goes to Moffat and Middleton, the two miserable bastards who make their despondency palatable enough to share.

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