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Phases and Stages

Record Reviews

Reviewed by Michael Chamy, April 18, 2003, Music

The Delgados

Hate (Mantra/Beggars Banquet)

Arab Strap

Monday at the Hug & Pint (Matador)


Sleep and Release (Matador) The Delgados: most underrated pop band in the isles. Even if they weren't, they'd still be notable for founding Glasgow's Chemikal Underground label, the heart of the late-Nineties Scottish musical renaissance that brought us Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, and Arab Strap. 2000's The Great Eastern found the starry-eyed fuzz-pop of dual Delgados singers Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock woven into a brilliantly orchestrated pastiche courtesy of über-producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mogwai). On their fourth album, Hate, Fridmann keeps the strings, but minimizes the proggy indulgences that bogged down The Great Eastern, allowing the Delgados' sinfully rich pop to take a vigorous life of its own. The dramatic, melancholy undercurrents of string-driven pop nuggets "The Drowning Years" and "Never Look at the Sun" showcase the Delgados as the smart, cutting-edge descendents of the Carpenters: everything Belle & Sebastian want to be, but are too damn precocious to pull off. And the Delgados rock out more. As do Aereogramme, fellow Glaswegians on Chemikal Underground and Matador. Sophomore effort Sleep and Rescue showcases the soft/loud shifts Mogwai has made famous, but in a more traditional rock manner. Vocalist Craig B, formerly of Mogwai tourmates Ganger, has a thin, boyish voice that tumbles and wavers on the soft stuff, occasionally bubbling into an evil, throat-clenching panic. The band's dynamics are beyond reproach, and the album sounds fabulous. Problem: The quiet songs don't provide a proper outlet for the band's palpable tension, and Aereogramme stays quiet far too often. The same has been said of Scottish twins of sin Arab Strap. Their fifth album, Monday at the Hug & Pint, is easily their most well-rounded, containing not only the dirty drum sequencers of Elephant Shoe ("Peep Peep") and the upbeat, grimy disco of The Red Thread ("The Shy Retirer," "Flirt"), but also the slow, distorted roar of their visceral live show (the pounding "Fucking Little Bastards"). "Loch Leven" is a dour drinking anthem that typifies the dim world-view of urgent mumbler Aidan Moffett, owner of the thickest Scottish brogue in the rock world. Master craftsman Malcolm Middleton adds touches of strings, as he does throughout, and that makes all the difference, making for a set of apocalyptic relationship odes as pretty as an ornate church hymnal and as dour as the bleakest Sunday. (Arab Strap opens for Bright Eyes at La Zona Rosa, Thursday, April 17. The Delgados and Aereogramme play Emo's, Friday, April 18.)

(The Delgados) ****

(Arab Strap) ***.5

(Aereogramme) **.5

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