The Clare of Clare and the Reasons is singer-songwriter Clare Muldaur Manchon (daughter of blues-folk guitarist Geoff Muldaur), and the Reasons are a crack team of Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalists including jazz violinist Olivier Manchon . While The Movie is the group’s first release, they have the preexisting distinction of having had two of their songs featured on the now-defunct cult TV show “Arrested Development.” Although the retro-themed cover art may lead one to expect something along the lines of cocktail jazz act Pink Martini, The Movie is in fact much closer to the orchestral pop of early Randy Newman, or more recently, Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright’s more orchestral moments are perhaps the best point of reference, but while he tends to fall into overwrought melodrama, Clare and the Reasons are just a bit too cool and collected for their own good.
The Movie aims to be, for the most part, a record about romance. However, one quickly gets the sense that this is the kind of romance that has more to do with perfumed paper and boxes of candy than with intense emotions or erotic longing; the pretty melodies and elegant arrangements fall perfectly into place, but don’t really suggest anything beyond their own polished surface. “Alphabet City,” which sounds like a Rufus outtake, comes closest, unafraid to unleash the kind of pop-song bombast that the rest of the album shuns in favor of a more delicate sound. For the most part, though, these romantic ballads come across as uncomfortably detached (“Sugar in My Hair”), and the few efforts at pathos or wistfulness (“Cook for You”) fail to register. Some of this may have to do with Manchon’s trained-but-thin voice, an invariably girlish coo that seems unsuitable for anything other than lightweight cutesiness about how Pluto isn’t a planet anymore (opening and closing track “Pluto,” performed once in English and once in French.)
Sufjan Stevens and Van Dyke Parks show up along the way, the former giving a catatonic vocal performance, and the later providing a wholly unremarkable arrangement. The Movie may be a well-executed and even enjoyable album, but it’s hardly exciting: the frilly surface is pleasant without being particularly engaging, the sort of thing that sounds good in the background but fails to stand up upon attentive listening.