I’m totally fine with it 👍 don’t give a fuck anymore 👍

While Arab Strap always seemed out of step with overground indie-rock trends during their Y2k-era initial run, the Scottish duo’s second act couldn’t have been more perfectly timed—and not just because the current UK indie landscape is over-populated with melody-averse monologists sharing vivid slice-of-life vignettes with a painterly touch. Their first album in 16 years, As Days Get Dark, arrived in early 2021 in the thick of the pandemic, and its thematic concerns—from social media addiction to the porn habits that fill the void in sexless relationships—perfectly aligned with a moment when much of our communication became mediated through screens, and the chasm between virtual connectivity and IRL isolation was widening at a perilous pace. For a hyper-analytical songwriter like Aidan Moffat, all the subsequent cultural turmoil that COVID helped spawn is the gift that keeps on giving.

In a pre-smartphone era, Moffat and partner Malcolm Middleton were the novelistic narrators of twentysomething Scottish life and all the awkward conversations that transpire after the pubs clear out for the night. Now, with their second post-comeback effort, I’m totally fine with it 👍 don’t give a fuck anymore 👍, they stand among indie rock’s most astute observers of human behavior in the digital age. Listening to these songs still feels like you’re eavesdropping on Moffat’s intimate exchanges and innermost thoughts, but now, more than ever, his narratives are firmly plugged into our unsettled collective consciousness. Moffat probably could have written the lyrics to “Sociometer Blues” back in 1998, as a window into a disintegrating dysfunctional relationship: “You take all my time, you take all my strength, you steal my love, you are the worst friend I ever had.” But the sense of exasperation and desperation is amplified upon realizing the song’s object of desire is his mobile device.

Critiquing technology’s dissociative effects is hardly the hottest take, and this isn’t even the only new indie-rock album on the subject to come out this week. But where so much of the discussion around being Extremely Online usually centers on mental health—the way the internet feeds on both ego and insecurity, and how its endless flow of information atomizes attention spans into milliseconds—I’m totally fine with it’s imposing opener, “Allatonceness,” catalogs its corrosive effects in corporeal terms. The song begins with the sound of an old-school modem making a dial-up connection—a cheeky callback from a band that was born at the dawn of the home-internet era, but also an instant-villain origin story of how we got to our current hellscape overpopulated by sedentary keyboard warriors with “atrophied legs.” The song’s queasy, quicksand-thick bass groove further reinforces the symbiotic relationship between habitual computer usage and physical stagnation.

As “Allatonceness” makes clear, Moffat is having a field day digging into the darkest crevices of online culture, and that devious enthusiasm likewise rubs off on the duo’s musical choices. Arab Strap may never fully shake their sad-bastard reputation, but I’m totally fine with it features some of their punchiest productions to date, expanding the cheeky “disco Spiderland” template of its predecessor into more forceful displays of rhythm and discord. Where they once wrote songs about dancing and getting fucked up, “Bliss” actually sounds like a peak-hour electro club thumper, while “Strawberry Moon” suggests the Fall making ‘80s breakdance jams. And “Turn Off the Light” could be the closest this group has gotten to crafting a festival-sized power ballad—though in typically perverse Arab Strap fashion, the song’s seemingly uplifting sentiments (“You came/And showed me the answers”) actually detail one impressionable man’s descent into conspiracy-theory lunacy.

As much as I’m totally fine with it delights in targeting the trolls who make the internet so inhospitable, the album extends the same grace and understanding to its shitposting subjects as you would to any person beset by a self-destructive addiction beyond their control. The sympathetic first-person perspective of “Turn Off the Light” seems to suggest that the roiling cesspool of disinformation can pull in anyone feeling lost and alone. And while it’s easy enough to condemn the deleterious psychological effects of smartphone dependency, for some of Moffat’s characters, it’s the only thing keeping them sane in a cruel world. With its deceptive ’80s soft-rock sparkle, “You’re Not There” tricks you into thinking Moffat is singing a wistful breakup ballad about an ex-lover who’s no longer returning his messages, until you realize the woman he’s pining for is actually dead, and that texting her is the only way he can fill the void in his heart and home. And as “Safe & Well” suggests, the only thing more frightening than getting sucked into the self-promotional hamster wheel of social media is what happens when you live anonymously: Over a mournful folk arrangement, Moffat recounts the based-on-a-true-story tale of a woman who died in her flat near the beginning of the pandemic, and wasn’t discovered for another two years. In Moffat’s account, no horrifying detail is spared—maggots and all.

On I’m totally fine with it 👍 don’t give a fuck anymore 👍, Arab Strap come to terms with the many ways in which the pandemic fundamentally altered the human experience, by turning hostile discourse, endless scrolling, FOMO panic, and polarizing politics into our default mode, while dampening the desire to seek out real-world experience even as the world returns to a state of business as usual. “Sun is shining, I don’t care,” Moffat admits on “Summer Season,” as he opts to drink alone in his flat, reply to his messages, and make noncommittal plans for in-person meet-ups that will probably never happen. It’s the moment where the nihilistic title sentiment of I’m totally fine with it 👍 don’t give a fuck anymore 👍 is felt most acutely, revealing a truth that few would be willing to admit: The only thing more painful than living through lockdown is missing it.

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Arab Strap: I’m Totally Fine With It 👍 Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore 👍