Human Don't Be Angry – Guitar Variations (4 stars)

Human Don't Be Angry – Guitar Variations

Arab Strap's Malcolm Middleton leans in favour of instrumental tracks on his third album as Human Don't Be Angry

Whether through his association with Arab Strap, or his own output (his Christmas single 'We're All Going To Die' didn't top the charts but lingers long in the memory), the name Malcolm Middleton immediately puts you in the headspace of the witty but dour Scottish drinker, the kind of guy for whom the glass is frequently half empty, but it's always a gas to pass the time with them regardless. No artist likes to be typecast and it's particularly unfair as Middleton has made a conscious effort to press the reset button in adopting the Human Don't Be Angry moniker. This is his third album under the name, a mostly instrumental musical diversion in a career synonymous with memorable lyrics. Fans of Andrew Wasylyk's vaguely Caledonian soundscapes will appreciate Guitar Variations.

Subverting expectations is the order of the day. The twinkling loops, pounding synths and dancing keyboards of 'Cynical' feel anything but, and that good feeling is prevalent too on the album opener 'You'll Find The Right Note (Eventually)', the musical embodiment of opening the curtains at daybreak and feeling strangely optimistic about what lies ahead. Its warmth is fleeting but undeniable. Penultimate track '(Why Can't I?) Dream In Cartoon' offers more joy, its strange hybrid of house and post-rock influences are an outlier on a record called Guitar Variations, but one of the strongest and best released tracks on the album.

The twists and turns of 'Bum A Ride' are a highlight too, one minute it's chugging along (not quite runaway train, more like getting the Scotrail from Glasgow to Falkirk) comfortable in its sun-kissed rock song territory, before being interrupted by a robotic vocal and ending up sounding a little bit like The Beta Band's interpretation of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Which is not a bad thing. The only notable singing appears on 'Come On Over To My Place' and – truth be told – Middleton does a better job of painting his scenes on the instrumental tracks, a testament to the arrangements and detail contained in Guitar Variations' nine tracks.

Out now on Around7Corners Records.

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