Pop stars from Frank Sinatra to the Spice Girls have cashed in by selling cotton-candy versions of sex and love. The Scottish duo Arab Strap, on the other hand, purveys graphic tales of cruelty, dysfunction, and promiscuity--the band's even named for a device that helps sustain an erection. The Strap's second album, Philophobia (Matador), opens with vocalist Aidan Moffat catching his faithless lover in a lie: "It was the biggest cock you'd ever seen, but you've no idea where that cock has been / You said you were careful--you never were with me / I heard you did it four times and johnnies come in packs of three." What makes Arab Strap's narratives more than scripts for the Jerry Springer Show is the group's gift for musical understatement. Moffat's thick mumble camouflages his skilled phrasing; he can fit reams of words into Malcolm Middleton's economical settings. On record Middleton weaves catchy little guitar parts, two-finger keyboard licks, and Tortoise-like bass lines around down-tempo drum programs; in concert bassist Gary Miller and drummer-keyboardist David Gow play the extra parts. This is Arab Strap's Chicago debut; Heroic Doses, Songs:Ohia, and the Pacific Ocean open. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Bill Meyer
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Gil Flett.