Arab Strap was an indie rock band from Falkirk, Scotland who was active between 1995 and 2006. During that time, the band released six proper albums, several EPs, a couple of live albums, and a dozen or so singles. The band was centered around the duo of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton. The two men met and bonded over their love of the music of Will Oldham and Smog.
The band name is derived from the name of a sexual device, but it was the band and not the device that’s referenced by the Belle & Sebastian album The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998). Moffat is friends with the guys from Belle & Sebastian, and they’ve toured together before, but Moffat was pretty upset by that reference. He thought that they were, in some way, stealing from him. He also thought that it led to some confusion, which made people mistakenly think that the album was a collaboration between the bands. I wonder if Morrissey also got his panties in a wad, claiming that it sounds far too much like “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”.
The Red Thread was the first Arab Strap record that I knew about, and for a long time it was the only one that I had. A friend tried to convince me that Philophobia (1998) was better, and he loaned me his copy, but I still like The Red Thread better.
Moffat has said that the album’s title is a reference to a belief in Eastern philosophy that you and your soul mate are bound by “an invisible red thread” so that you will always be able to find each other. Sometimes I wonder if “eastern religion/eastern philosophy” stuff like that is just made up by white people who want to sound wise. It’s a nice thought and all, but if it’s invisible, how is it also red? To that, the annoying white guy Buddhist at a cocktail party would say “If you rid yourself of the notion that things have to be tactile to be real, you’ll understand”. And this goes on for hours. You know that guy, right?
Anyway… here’s tonight’s song:
“The Long Sea” by Arab Strap
I like how this song takes its time. It’s not unlike a Mogwai song in that respect. Moffat has collaborated with those guys before and doesn’t mind mentioning it. It starts off as a really vast, spacious thing. It slowly gets bigger and bigger, louder and louder, busier and busier. Not out of nowhere like an oasis in the desert. More steady and gradual. I also like that it’s loud and quiet at the same time. Everything is building and swelling, but it never gets crazy loud. It sounds like it did get crazy loud in the studio, but the way it’s produced deliberately holds a lot of that back.
I like that it continues to build, and just as it sounds like it’s about to reach a crescendo at 6:00, it doesn’t. It just sort of peters out. It’s the only song on the album that has that muffled or attenuated sound. I’m not sure why I like it, but I do.
The gradual build without a satisfying conclusion is parallel with the theme of the song. Judging from the lyric sheet, it might be about a really long courtship with no end result.
23 years of foreplay led up to this
Or it might be about having the freedom of mind to regret the things that you do rather than the things that you’re too scared to do.
Sometimes I envy my friends
Sometimes I see a world of opportunity
As if they’re all out in the world living and enjoying stuff while the narrator is too cautious to take advantage of the opportunities.
At the same time, that very line could be something else entirely. It could be something like a lament over time wasted in a search for Eldorado.
All my favourite memories are of you
All the best times were with you, but sometimes I see a world of opportunities
With the implication that those opportunities are out of reach because you’re too busy making memories with someone. “23 years of foreplay” memories.
Still, though. There’s one line that suggests that there was an awkward sexual encounter.
You’ve always thought the first time was that night on the boat,
Cramped up in the bottom bunk while she slept above.
I suppose it’s more glamourous out at sea under the moon.
Instead of pissed at a party while they laughed below.
Basically, I just don’t know.
I do, though, really like that slow build. Take your time and listen to this properly. No distractions. No work, or kids, or anything else. Just the music.
Arab Strap was on Matador Records in the US, and you can still buy The Red Thread from the label’s web store here.