Oh, Malkie. He's been a co-chair to my mental health for many, many years now. In times of sadness, he lifts me up through commiseration, and in times of happiness he gives me perspective.
His music has been the hardest for me to describe. Simply, his albums tend to be guitar-focused pop and acoustic folk with some electronic elements, what you might expect to come out of the greater UK area. They're catchy songs and Malcolm's Scottish accent comes across as invariant, but central to each song. His lyrics are dark, often self-deprecating, with occasional funny non-sequiturs.
That's a drastic simplification. Indeed, there's a brilliant musicianship to all his albums - this is a masterful songwriter, where the songs are catchy, but complex, a blending of styles into unique non-composite forms. The last two albums Malcolm's put out have been explicitly electronic, a kind of in-depth exploration of form that he mostly danced around for the past two decades with his previous solo and Arab Strap albums. If anything, these albums seemed to be an expression of boredom and a desire to reclaim what he loved about making music. I get the impression that if he's not pushing the limits of his music, he's not enjoying it. Even though he may enjoy having fans, I don't get the impression he's doing this for us.
Oddly, I find that when I try to describe Malcolm's music that I tend to think more about Malcolm the person, instead of, say, 'Bananas' the album. There's more in each album than the style or musicianship. There's a brutal honesty to his expression. An honest-to-god low-level depression. The kind that would keep a man from getting too cocky, yet let him remain kind of an asshole.
We might say Malcolm writes pop songs about sadness, but, like a true Scotsman, the sadness comes from within. There are no grains of salt to the lyrics, but an appreciable self-deprecating wit that helps to keep an even keel. From the man who brought you "Fuck It, I Love You" comes "Love is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing," with lyrics like, "Fuck off with your happiness" set to an upkey stomping piano.
[Edit: I found this unpublished post from 2+ years ago. I think I never posted it because I never finished it. The main point was to try to describe this artist that I've been struggling to describe for like a decade. Hilarious that I didn't finish it. But I like my writing here, and don't think tacking on some half-assed ending in my current state of mind would do it any justice, so here ya go, here's half an idea.]
[Second edit: I don't know why this starts with Track 10, which is a B-Side, but the player contains the whole album, and I highly suggest starting with Track 1.]