Aidan Moffat, the singer and songwriter of Glasgow duo Arab Strap, tells the stories of a troubled troubadour. But where other pop troubadours -- Donovan, Dylan, Nick Drake -- often sang outward, interpersonal songs about sunshine supermen and masters of war, Moffat pretty much always sings about one character: himself.
Not much for subtle symbology, the frontman poses naked for a painted portrait on the cover of Arab Strap's second full-length, Philophobia. Though his head looks disproportionately small, as if it would fit better on a different body, Moffat is hung, flatteringly, with "a huge cock." On the flip side of the sleeve his ex-girlfriend sits cross-legged and bare.
Appropriately enough, for Philophobia's 13 musically spare and bleak songs Moffat is consumed by girls and sex. In his thick brogue, he murmurs about this "cock" and that "post-fuck flush." For him, sex diverts boredom and the struggle of relationships. Confessional and self-referential tales like "Soaps" and "Packs of Three" tell of women who can't seem to keep their hands out of someone else's pants. "It was the biggest cock you've ever seen but you've no idea where that cock has been/ You said you were careful but you never were with me/ I heard you did it four times and Johnnies come in packs of three," he mutters.
Most of the time multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton's accompaniment is as hollow and stark as Moffat's words (notwithstanding a Miles Davis-esque trumpeting interlude in "Night Before the Funeral"). In "Piglet," the keyboards mark the bald intensity of the lyrics. The drum machine -- not to mention the cold emotional landscape expressed in the lyrics -- conjures Joy Division at their quieter moments. But even by Joy Division standards, Philophobia is particularly harsh. There are precious few sing-along moments, and repeated plays can flatten a listener with depression.
Amid the bragging and bitching there's a bravery about Arab Strap. In the press and on record, both members proclaim themselves drunken blokes, fucking and smoking and puking because there's nothing else to do. Nonetheless, they seem devoted to a credo of complete honesty.
In "Piglet" Moffat ridicules the sexual skill of his lovers: "The words you used to think turned me on just made me laugh/ 'Do you want to suck my cunt?' in real life just sounds naff," he scorns. For thrusting himself (and his exes) into the hot lights in a world of almost universal disaffection, Moffat deserves some kind of acknowledgement. But nonetheless, all of his mumbling and naughty sex talk can be seen as a kind of guise for his own shortcomings. After all, a guy who puts a naked picture on the cover of his album runs the risk of being misunderstood as someone who thinks of his own tool as the most fascinating thing he has to offer.
-- Jennie Rose
There's a hideous rumor that the 26-year-old from Brooklyn who claims to be DeeJay Punk-Roc isn't the man behind 11 of this year's catchiest electro tracks. Some time ago, Air Dog Records, the label that put out Punk-Roc's first single, sent the British press prank media kits. The kits contained a promotional photo of a white male's body with Burt Reynolds' disconnected head pasted on top. The photo was signed DeeJay Punk-Roc.
Apparently, the press corps missed the joke. One journalist at Musik published the doctored photo and claimed that DeeJay Punk-Roc, who had previously been black in magazine photos, was obviously not who he was supposed to be. The ensuing pop controversy took months to resolve in the U.K. The final verdict: DeeJay Punk-Roc is DeeJay Punk-Roc, the same guy who released the original single.
It shouldn't have mattered. Regardless of who is behind ChickenEye, the record boasts too much originality for dance freaks to care. The street-style remixes and beatbox abandon revisit a time when guys in Adidas track suits moved like R2D2 on the dance floor. Imagine what British remix king Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook) would sound like if he grew up stateside listening to George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, and Afrika Bambaataa.
Massive beats -- '90s big beat and '80s electro and hip hop -- transform the sound of nostalgia into something updated and innovative. Punk-Roc contains a breakbeat explosion on "Far Out," then lays down hyperspeed self-conscious rhymes: "Smooth like silk in the city I'm slick/ So I think you'd better cancel your ego trip." A Chuck D sample -- "Create rap music because I've never dug disco" -- cuts the breaks, Punk-Roc both borrowing from the old school and giving something to the new.
For a cushioned come-down, the DJ introduces mellower, jazz-funk sounds on "The World Is My Ashtray" and a bedroom track for the around-the-way girls on "All You Ladies." Before he fades out, DeeJay Punk-Roc exits with the downtempo "Rockin' It." The song's sample loop caps the record and, by extension, any lingering rumors about Punk-Roc's identity: "This shit is real."
-- Melissa Piazza