It has become a tradition for the past three autumns to (figuratively) dust off The Clientele‘s catalogue. Today, the quartet releases Bonfires on the Heath, their fifth full-length album; you can stream it here at the website of Merge Records. I’ve been a fan of the band since the release of Strange Geometry (also on Merge) in the fall of 2005.
When applied to music, the adjective “mood” is usually pejorative, denoting a boring or uninteresting sound meant to be heard, but not listened to; however, a band is often applauded when its music captures a certain atmosphere. Reviewers place The Clientele in both camps: some admire the band’s ability to envelop the listener in melancholy and longing while others criticize the band’s 45-minute songs. Of course, most music is, to some degree, tied to mood and place. I have pleasant memories of listening to Suburban Light on a rainy day, The Violet Hour on a quiet night, Strange Geometry on the commute home, or God Save the Clientele on a walk outside in the bright sun.
I’ve never been good with the English language, and with lyrics in particular. This is likely a result of having been raised on music set to standard Latin texts, music that revealed its depth in subtle shifts in harmony and melodic line. I was fortunate to have first listened to The Clientele in a place quiet enough that one of the melodies from Strange Geometry caught both my ear and interest, but it was only after multiple replays of the album that I began to appreciate the band’s musical nuance and lead singer Alasdair Maclean’s writing talent.
As an example, take the title track of The Violet Hour. After many repeated listens, I’m still struck by the flawless balance of restrained drums, peripatetic bass, intricate guitar, and reverb-soaked vocals, the hallmark of the band’s sound. Maclean also pens the enigmatic words that complete the song – my friend loves the line “So that summer came and went and I became cold”. If you listen carefully, moments like the shift in snare rhythm or the bass’ elegant climb of an octave during the refrain will make you smile.
I believe that one of the highest compliments you can pay to an artist is crediting their creations with allowing you to see beauty in small details. Perhaps The Clientele were paying homage to Joseph Cornell by making him the namesake of a song off Suburban Light. On some level, I guess this inaugural post is my thanks.