MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
The Clientele: Suburban Light
Pointy Records, 2000
I am woefully untraveled. For one who has so much love for plenty of art and music from around the world, I haven’t been anywhere, never having even traveled farther than Baja, California in Mexico, the only other country I’ve ever been to.
I mention this because, though I’m sure it’s obvious, I love so much music out of the U.K. and Germany, and all I’ve ever done is merely imagined the streets of London or Berlin, say, on a cloudy day, coat buttoned up to the neck walking through oily streets to a warm bakery for a cup of coffee and fresh pastry, ever the romantic. The soundtrack I imagine in this scenario is The Clientele, probably something from this record, their debut.
The music of The Clientele definitely belongs to the continuum of great British Pop but think the jangly and laid-back deep cuts of The Kinks, Zombies, or early Donovan. Lead vocalist and guitarist Alasdair Maclean has a wonderfully melodic, languid finger picking style that creates a sweet moon-lit crystalline atmosphere and there’s warm organ and tasteful slide guitar on some of the songs that sweep in chords like the thick fog of my imaginary twilight walks. His voice has an almost whispery quality that coos the romantic lyrics about the type of setting I mentioned above, also bringing to mind shaded, tree-lined boulevards and bucolic, pastoral settings, dusty bookshops and picnicking poets. When he chooses to put more into his voice, something like his version of belting it out, the effect is all the more powerful.
I was introduced to these guys via my great friend Christopher Sprague (of Tristeza ‘fame’) and I can never thank him enough. I remember the first time he played this record for me and I heard the ‘doo doo doo doo doo dooooo’ of “I Had To Say This,” and I was literally instantly hooked. We were both single at the time and tending to our wounded bachelor hearts, probably nursing glasses of good bourbon and the music was a perfect salve.
This record includes various songs that had been previously released on compilations or as singles between 1997 and 2000 but the way they sound of a piece with each other is uncanny. It really sounds as though they put all their hopes into each song they were writing at the time and set a high standard for themselves early. What The Clientele do and do well is so specific, so idiosyncratic, I don’t imagine everyone will like it, its lantern-lit somnolence is the jangle-pop version of bedroom music. However, for those who find enchantment in melodic, gauzy dream pop, and you know who you are, here is a treasure.