The Clientele
The Violet Hour
Merge Records
2003
A



the Clientele are an exercise in exquisitely crafted soporific nostalgia. For the last five years this London-based three-piece have been etching hazily melodic slices of guitar-pop in 60s-tinted hues, releasing an armful of singles and EPs, some of which were collated on 2001’s Suburban Light, before climaxing with last year’s five-song Lost Weekend EP. Such are The Clientele’s gifts that its hard to believe The Violet Hour is only their debut album; few bands with more impressive vintages and prolific back-catalogues have managed to make records as touching, cohesive and deeply seeped in their own character as The Clientele have here.

That The Clientele are anachronistic is part of their charm, their delicately sombre tempos floating amid a tangible sea of reminiscence expressed not only through lyrics which ruminate on rainy weekdays and darkening autumns, but also through an indistinct yet iridescent production that focuses attention on mood and feeling rather than flashy technique or bombastic statements. As such listening to The Clientele is like looking at a faded photograph of something you only vaguely recall but still find loaded with regret and beauty.

If their early EPs consisted largely of gently melodious 60s pop pastiches brushed with melancholy, since Lost Weekend The Clientele have been moving in more drawn-out, psychedelic directions epitomised by the found-sound ambience of “Boring Postcard” and the extended harmonic reverie of “Emptily Through Holloway”. With The Violet Hour they have made one of the most fluent and atmospheric dream-pop albums of the last ten years. Alaisdair MacLean’s extraordinarily heavily reverbed vocals emanate from no fixed point and seem to lose the tune as often as they find it, but his high, tremulous and wandering delivery fits the mood perfectly once you become comfortable with it, the distant singing enhancing the specifics of lines like “living without love in her mother’s waiting room” from the album’s title track. MacLean’s guitar, meanwhile, chimes and shimmers over and through the songs in a succession of wistful 60s riffs, occasionally spun backwards in a peal of winsome sadness. James Hornsey (bass) and Mark Keen (drums) add a suitably melodic and atmospheric rhythmic backing, occasionally breaking into a woozy canter that grabs at the longing in your chest.

The Violet Hour is a record for lonely autumn evenings and pointless Sunday afternoons, music for listening to while things happen elsewhere, songs for gazing out of the window and wondering why to. The beatific “Jamaican Rum Rhumba” is a perfect instrumental soundtrack to falling leaves, and the lilting “House On Fire” is wrapped in the melancholy of dying summer (“but I was only watching clouds go by…”). The obvious influences are Felt, Love, Nick Drake and a hundred half-remembered 60s pop hits which have faded into obscured daydreams, and when the band swoon through the extended psychedelic breakdown of “The House Always Wins”, which is as close to ‘rock’ as they get, they owe more than a little shimmer and groove to very early Verve. However, what The Clientele most sound like is The Clientele, and this strong sense of identity and purpose running through their music makes them incredibly refreshing and unique. The Violet Hour is an understated, atmospheric triumph.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-10-01
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