The Clientele - Music for the Age of Miracles

by Rob Taylor Rating:10 Release Date:2017-09-22

Although loosely affiliated with the sun-frazzled West Coast pop sound of the 1960s, psychedelic or otherwise, The Clientele’s delicate pop has an arcane quality. Not impenetrable but rather built of delicious layers which reveal themselves eventually in an unhurried listening environment. It’s easy to be whisked away into subconscious bliss by the music’s prettiness, but beneath the surface there’s a sharp articulation in the sound, almost neo-classical. All those years back, what initially attracted me however to the music of The Clientele was their ability to write instantly satisfying dream-pop like 'Special K Got Over Me' (from Strange Geometry), ‘Never Anyone But You’ (from Bonfire of the Heath), and single ‘On a Summer Trail’, songs with a Byrdsian quality. The attraction was the hook and not necessarily the anchor.

I initially thought much else of The Clientele’s music showed too much grandeur and not enough kick, but the real fault lay in my impatient listening practices. I hadn’t adjusted my ears to the fact that The Clientele are far more than one trick ponies.

The Clientele’s music is more than gossamer-thin membrane or dreamy confections. I think to prove that point, the blurry reverb of early singles collection, Suburban Light, or albums, The Violet Hour and Strange Geometry, gave way to a clearer annunciation of sound on God Save the Clientele, and even more so, on Bonfire of the Heath. The latter album, in particular, showcased their varied instrumental qualities, even getting all funky on ‘Share the Night’, or jamming out some folk-rock on ‘Graven Wood’. For some, The Clientele shifted a bit too closely to Britpop for comfort but this criticism was pre-emptory. Mostly, nothing really changed of the exquisite chamber pop their fans adored. All that did happen was that they adopted a production standard befitting the multi-layered nature of their music.

On new album, Music For The Age of Miracles, The Clientele are true to their reputation for psychedelic pop music tracing a line back to Arthur Lee and Love, The Kinks, Galaxy 500, Luna and right back up to bands like Beach House on the reverse side of influence.

Where Alistair Maclean excels is in the not just the poetry of the compositions, but the literal poetry of his lyrics. For instance on ‘Lunar Says’ he captures solitary thought beautifully - “So, I walked along the street / with no-one home / lamps no-one lit / roads no-one drove / I was nowhere today / watching sunlight moving through the alleyways” Also, on track, ‘Everyone You Meet’ the narrator’s reminiscences of more innocent times are interestingly juxtaposed by the official Merge Records video with grainy Super 8 video footage of North London’s ‘forgotten suburbs’ (as Maclean puts it), from the N11 ring-road around New Southgate. The video manages to make dull cityscapes seem blissfully nostalgic through the prism of distorted light and sped up images of trains and cars.

The music on Music For The Age of Miracles, as with much of The Clientele’s music, is awfully enchanting but will deliver more than just superficial warmth with each listen. Centrepiece ‘Falling Asleep’ incorporates fingerpicked guitar, lightly plucked harp, crisp percussion and very tasteful orchestral strings in a manner very much recollective of when Arthur Lee returned gloriously from his jail cell to play Love’s songs with Baby Lemonade and assorted strings at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s wonderful when that can be done without any hint of saccharine, and The Clientele employ these layers with impeccable skill.

 If you are a fan of The Clientele, you can rejoice in the fact that this is a real comeback album.

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