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The Clientele - Strange Geometry

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Artist: The Clientele

Album: Strange Geometry

Label: Merge

Review date: Oct. 4, 2005

Critics often mention the Clientele in the same breath with Galaxie 500, and just like that band, this London trio seems to tinker with variations on a single song. The template stays roughly the same – to wit: hazy guitars, a melody anchored by a sturdy bass line, and Alasdair MacLean’s careful vocals. They even, from time to time, bolster their work’s general impression of ethereality by adding field recordings of a religious variety. The Violet Hour (2003) had tolling church bells, and their new album, Strange Geometry, has what sounds to me like a soprano’s voice warbling throughout a cathedral, complete with the echo of footsteps in and out of the chamber.

MacLean’s lyrics serve to refresh the template. He’s like most pop songwriters in that he’s preoccupied with being lonely and miserable, but his strength is that he explores those emotions in miniature. A typical MacLean song isn’t specifically a my-woman-done-me-wrong number, and he might instead write about an awkward post-breakup period where one party has moved on and the other hasn’t. When discussing that time, he’s also likely to remark that “everything is so vivid, and so creepy” and then illustrate that sentiment by noting that “when the evening paints the streets, it’s like walking on a trampoline.” On “Geometry of Lawns” he doesn’t just amble through the city streets, but past the “redbricks, sweatshops and madrassahs.” This observation of detail is then combined with poetic and surreal elements. On “When I Came Home From the Party,” MacLean begins by walking home “through each tenement line” but then goes on to talk about seeing “our dead friends” walking the streets “mingled with the crowds, until the living and the dead became each other.” That’s a mixture of realism and artfulness not often captured in a single song.

Strange Geometry was the Clientele’s first album with an outside producer, Brian O’Shaughnessy, in a fully equipped studio, and the added technical skill shows. If The Violet Hour and their 2001 collection of singles, Suburban Light, had a failing, it was that in attempting to mimic the hazy sound of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and other ’60s icons, their arrangements sounded nonexistent. The guitar lines floated well above the rest of the mix, and MacLean’s voice was reduced to a dull echo. On Strange Geometry, however, MacLean’s alto is fully audible, the French chamber pop artist Louis Philippe contributes some tasteful string arrangements, and the band even jams on a few songs, albeit very cautiously.

Whatever weaknesses the album has seem to be there by design. Here’s a band so fond of their particular brand of mid-tempo dream pop that they do not feel compelled to try anything else. At least they take the time to be particularly observant as they comb their territory.

By Tom Zimpleman

Other Reviews of The Clientele

The Lost Weekend ep

The Violet Hour

God Save The Clientele

Bonfires on the Heath


Read More

View all articles by Tom Zimpleman

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