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Perhaps it’s the nation’s disappointment in New Labor or its poor chances in the World Cup, but there isn’t much light escaping from Cool Britannia these days. Which is fine when it inspires the likes of Arab Strap, a duo from Falkirk, Scotland. (Jesus, have you ever been to Falkirk? No wonder they’re miserable.) No matter how loud you play this record, you never seem able to reach the heart of it—everything seems to be bubbling just beneath the surface, slightly out of range of your hearing. The music is very easy, with simple beats and acoustic instruments that register no great changes or power chords, and the voice mutters more than sings; the Scottish accent is easily identifiable. It’s incredibly endearing, a lot like the dominant British bitterness issuing lately from Tindersticks, Belle and Sebastian, Momus—and even Pulp, when you wipe off the lip gloss and see the cynicism beneath. While Philophobia is trying at times, it’s an impressive one, with standouts like the Young Marble Giants sound-alike “New Birds” and the bleak hit “Here We Go.” Arab Strap’s music has even been used to sell Guinness on British TV—which is hard to imagine, but makes perfect sense if you’ve ever watched British TV. For those who find solace in the miserable, Arab Strap will fit comfortably alongside the Leonard Cohens and Lou Reed’s Berlin. The perfect antidote to happiness.

—Dale Shaw