Dusted Reviews

The Clientele - The Violet Hour

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: The Clientele

Album: The Violet Hour

Label: Merge

Review date: Jul. 25, 2003

Bewitching Hour

It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly it is about certain albums or songs that make you feel as if you have a telepathic connection – a real relationship – with your stereo. Whether you’re lying flat on your back attenuated to the grooves in the vinyl or seeking isolation and privacy in your headphones on the street, good albums gives life to machines and sometimes make them your best companions…they speak to you, personally. The Violet Hour by the Clientele is such a record – a collection of 13 songs that are beautiful and interesting enough to potentially make friends and lovers obsolete.

Unlike many other bands, the Clientele don’t seem to care much about the life you and I live, the things you and I see, or the air you and I breathe. Rather, like a classical painter or poet, the band evokes a reality all its own, one which is at once both familiar and strange to the listener. If I’m not making much sense, perhaps an analogy might help. The music of The Violet Hour is “familiar” in that singer Alisdair MacLean sings about things you experience everyday (for example, in “When You and I Were Young” – the way light can make inanimate things seem alive, the way a radiator can make music, etc.), but “strange” because the association of those sensory perceptions with certain feelings and emotions are certain to be novel and foreign at some level. A good artist can make the familiar unfamiliar, make you see and hear things in a new light.

As a band, the Clientele have been making a name for themselves over the past few years through a series of EPs and 7-inches (not to mention an early full-length, Suburban Light) on British labels. With their second LP – The Violet Hour – issued on Merge Records, the Clientele hits U.S. soil no longer as an import or an English flavor of the month. This time the band’s output does more than just whet your appetite – Hour doesn’t tease as it covers a significant amount of territory in its 50 minutes. Certainly the band redeploys the musical elements that make their sound so distinct (although one might safely say that the group’s output is firmly entrenched in the Galaxie 500 tradition of warm, stripped-down, dream-pop). The distant vocals and reverberating guitars of MacLean, combined with the steady and restrained, yet intricate, grace of drummer Mark Keen, and the alternatingly melodic and driving bass lines of James Hornsey are still present. It's tracks like the imminently danceable / groove-oriented “House on Fire” and moments like the cascading psychedelic-freakout ending of “The House Always Wins”, however, that testify to the fact that the band is willing to push its sound in exciting directions. Even the occasional acoustic and slide guitar makes an appearance on The Violet Hour – perhaps the kind of salute to American AM radio that justifies the band’s listing of Willie Nelson as an influence (!).

Testing the boundaries of the sparse arrangements, delicate vocalizing and deft recording that has served the band so well in the past makes The Violet Hour less than ideal for the first-time listener of the Clientele. While the album is certainly accessible, it would be hard for the uninitiated to understand the degree of departure. Whereas on their first LP, Suburban Light, the band favored a retro-tinged lower-fidelity studio sound, we now hear the first manifestations of modern recording practices inherent in the clarity on vocals and guitars. Although I personally don’t find this to be a hindrance to the band’s sound, it might confuse those who have heard that the band sounds like they’re straight out of the ’60s.

To conclude, there probably won't be many albums in 2003 that will combine images, sounds and deepfelt emotions as well as The Violet Hour. In a way, it seems appropriate that gentle pop giant Donovan once sang about the season of the witch…because today he has worthy descendents in the Clientele and their most bewitching “Hour.”

By Jeff Rufo

Other Reviews of The Clientele

The Lost Weekend ep

Strange Geometry

God Save The Clientele

Bonfires on the Heath


Read More

View all articles by Jeff Rufo

Find out more about Merge

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.