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Amor de Dias - The House at Sea

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Artist: Amor de Dias

Album: The House at Sea

Label: Merge

Review date: Jan. 22, 2013

“Voice in the Rose,” which leads off this second collaboration between The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean and Lupe Núñez-Fernández, is an almost ideal blend of indie pop and bossa nova, its dual guitar lines lightly, buoyantly syncopated, its bright, sharp instrumental clarity softened at the edges with luminous drone.

MacLean sings lead in this one, as he does in about half the songs. His voice barely exceeds a whisper. A soft ache of nostalgia lodges in almost too pretty tones. The guitars are Latin, the vocals C86. And yet you can hardly see where the seam lies, it all fits so beautifully together. It’s the kind of daydream hatching pop tune that makes you sad and happy all at once, happy because the sound is so caressingly pretty, sad because it, like the good things flashing by in the lyrics, will be over any minute now, and then where will you be?

In other words, The House at Sea picks up where the Amor de Dias album, 2011’s Street of the Love of Days left off, in a beautifully balanced concoction of wistful, rainy afternoon twee-pop and softly insistent Brazilian guitar jazz.

MacLean and Núñez-Fernández began working together in 2008, a little while before The Clientele went on hiatus. Though you won’t hear much of it in either The Clientele’s work or the few Pipas videos available online, the two shared a fascination with Spanish guitar and, particularly, flamenco. In the three years while their first album took shape, the two plumbed commonalities — soft, hushed voices, an effortless but crystal-clear sound and fleeting nods to Andalusia — while also working out the logistical issues in a sporadic, cross-national collaboration.

The first album included cameos from fellow murmur-pop acolytes Damon and Naomi and some guitar from The Ladybug Transistor’s Gary Olson. This second album was recorded in just a few weeks and includes far fewer extra players. It’s more unitary, compact and cohesive with just the two principals, plus the Clientele’s old rhythm section of James Hornsey and Howard Monk and a recorder specialist named Anne Grey (whom you can hear best on “Hampshire Lullaby”).

The 12 songs on The House at Sea employ different mixes of pop and Latin influences. The stand-out, early single “Jean Is Waving” is 100 percent Anglo-pop, with a melody that is gentle, subtle, undulating, reticent but nonetheless undeniably catchy. “Viento Del Mar,” half a dozen songs later, takes a darker tack, its shadowy, Spanish-language vocals (it’s Núñez-Fernández this time) snaked through with muscular, feedback-distorted guitar lines. “Hampshire Lullaby,” the quietest song on this generally reserved collection, is almost a British folk song, except that its guitar flourishes always seem to be on the verge of wriggling into a samba. And two of the Núñez-Fernández’s songs (“Day” and “In the Winter Sun”) have a bubbly, effervescent, Stereolab-ish drone, decanting static repetition into something uplifting and optimistic. There’s quite a lot of variety here, but it all seems of a piece and a mood, a cloudy seacoast on a warm day with just a bit of sunlight breaking through.

One of the great pleasures of The House at Sea is that you can enjoy it without thinking about it, on a purely sensual, intuitive level, without feeling that there’s nothing there to consider. MacLean and Núñez-Fernández make few demands on the listener, filling space after space with super clear, super warm, dreamy clarity. And yet at the end, they ask you to think, at least a little, in the experimental “Maureen,” a shades-drawn waltz in a darkened room, a music box melody gone slightly overripe. It’s the one song where you feel like Amor de Dias’s pretty reveries could turn menacing, and make you pay attention in a way the other 11 tracks did not.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Amor de Dias

Street of the Love of Days

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