The burden of always having to relate one band to another is rather draining, and usually results in watered down comparisons that can often be more misleading than helpful. I’m afraid The Clientele may be victim of that, especially with their new album, Strange Geometry.
When I look at the Billboard Top Albums chart to see what’s going on in the world of music (and yes, I do look… so very shameful is the looking), The Clientele is not the name you see plastered in the top spot. Or on the top chart. Or… any of the charts, from what I’ve seen. The problem is this idea of relation. Everything is supposed to be largely like something else we already know or that is already popular; but with a twist. Anything outside of that realm tends to baffle popular culture and usually results in its simply being ignored (requires too much effort) and gets tucked back to the fringe stage.
This happens more often than not in the vague and ill-defined world of “indie rock”, where things that large masses of people don’t know how to describe get lumped. To combat this we wrack our brains coming up with what I call the blender analogy: if you were to put group A and group B, together with a dash of group C, in a blender and mix it all up, the smoothie results would be band X. That’s helpful to some degree, but…
I’m stalling, because I know that sooner or later I’m going to have to get to doing what I don’t want to do, which is saying “Ok, they sound kind of like…” (Sigh) Ok, fine. I’ll just go ahead and get it out of the way, for the sake of those who need it. If you pinned me to the ground in a non-suggestive manner and made me spill the beans (also in a non-suggestive manner), I would probably say that The Clienetele is what you’d get if you mixed Brian Wilson with The Byrds, as interpreted by perhaps a smarter Ocean Colour Scene. They’re sort of like the older brother of The Perishers, with a more “mod” record collection.
That’s what I’d say if I had to, but what I’d rather say is that its breakfast tea music. It’s slow, thoughtful and dreamy folk-pop, run through some vintage gear and effects pedals, and served with dry toast and a sensible jam. It’s more the sound of opening up the morning paper at daybreak than it is a specific musical genre. Is the music fast? No. Are the guitars “shimmering”? Yes. Is it melancholic? Absolutely. But is that bad? Not in the slightest. Does the vocalist have a thick British accent? Yes, at least to my ears. Does it sound like it was made for the digital age? Not really (note to self: buy this album on vinyl).
The melancholy of the soft guitar pop with occasional organ and strings, is provided courtesy of a breakup for the lead singer. Whether it’s real or imagined I can’t say, as I’m not privy to the details of why or how they do what they do, but the 12 tracks of the album seem to chronicle this relationship and its demise. This may sound more heady and sober than it is. After all, what pop music doesn’t write about relationships and breakups? It’s classic song fuel, just taken that extra step with detail. Musically the songs flow one to another with little variation in overall dynamic. Tracks are largely reigned in to a slower mid-tempo that carries similar instrumentation and dynamic weight. If you’re looking for an album that stretches you at every turn (and where the artist tries to convince him/herself in interviews that “we really tried to branch out and do something different with this new album…” I always love hearing that bit!), then this might not be for you. However, if you like a couple of the tracks, then you’re going to settle in nicely to the groove of the rest of the record.
The album starts off with their first single “Since K Got Over Me”, introducing us to the unnamed antagonist in the melodrama, and begins a musical style that carries through the rest of the album, especially in the excellent “When I Came Home From The Party.” Slow lushness quickly comes to the fore in the exquisite “(I Can’t Seem To) Make You Mine,” and really showcases their deft and natural knack for churning out lilting melodies. “E.M.P.T.Y” is a slightly more jangly and upbeat number (at least musically, if not lyrically, as you might guess) and is probably the next most likely candidate to be a single of some sort. The two most obvious deviations from the established guitar pop grandeur of the tracks are “Impossible,” which incorporates a classy and lushly romantic string ensemble before ending up with a more psychedelic leaning guitar solo, and “Losing Haringey” which takes a spoken monologue and lays it over a more mid-tempo track.
But really, the best review I can give you is just to point you to some music to hear. Thankfully, the label has seen fit to provide some full tracks to the masses. You can visit the band’s music page to hear two songs from the record. These are very representative of the album as a whole, and just quality tunes.
I’d love to objectively tell you how this album ranks in the larger world, but I’m afraid I’ve been sucked in too deep. I’ve been listening to it incessantly since I got it. To be honest, I didn’t even know I needed this record, but apparantly I did. It’s been a much needed and refreshing breeze to blow through my stuffy flat, and a nice change of pace from the bombast currently stifling the airwaves. What it lacks in diversity it makes up for in quality songwriting and delivery. It’s one continuous groove, but it’s a really, really nice singular groove. It’s just satisfying and nourishing fare. What does it sound like? It sounds like I like it.
And after all, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.