Those of you who have been following along and paying close attention will notice that each of my top three albums of the year could be considered comeback albums of a sort. The National’s “Sleep well beast” at number three was their first album in four years, which isn’t a long time when you consider the album at number two was Slowdive’s first in 22 years, but in this day and age, The National’s inactivity felt like a hiatus nonetheless. And of course, the span between Clientele’s last album and this year’s “Music for the age of miracles”, at 9 years (8 years, if you count the mini-album “Minotaur”), pales in comparison with Slowdive’s too.
That there are all these ‘comeback’ albums at the top of my list could say something about my tastes in music and might suggest that I tend towards nostalgia when making my picks. However, there are a bunch of “comeback” albums that are not on this list that could also easily slide into the nostalgia category. No. These three are all fine albums, by some of my favourite bands, and the fact that they didn’t disappoint, given the lofty expectations heaped upon them as soon as they were announced, is a good part of the reason they are ranked so high.
The Clientele has been one of my favourite bands since I first heard their 2003 album, “The violet hour”. Between then and their announced hiatus in 2011, they put out a string of beautiful, and delicate releases that slanted towards 60s psychedelia. And never did creative force, Alasdair MacLean allow his group to stray from this course. But don’t mistake this as stagnation, as my friend Andrew Rodriguez did when he stated that all their albums sounded the same. When listened from end to end, you can definitely hear the progression in their sound but you will always recognize them as The Clientele.
When I purchased the record from my local record store Compact Music, Tyler, my favourite vinyl pusher, noted the album with a grin and said it was a good one. He used all the usual adjectives dragged out when describing their music, but assured me that when that “hazy, epic tune backing a spoken word monologue” (“The museum of fog”) came on, he said to himself, “oh yeah… these guys”. And he nodded slowly in a way that suggested he was hearing the song again in his head at that very moment.
When I put on “Music for the age of miracles” for my own first listen, it didn’t disappoint at all. It was like returning home and sitting in your favourite comfy chair and watching the greatest movie you’ve never seen before but with all your favourite actors and characters. Familiar yet mind blowing and new. For those new to The Clientele, prepare yourself for a heavenly backdrop that will make you forget whatever menial task you are performing and for your face to hurt from the smile that will be permanently pasted there the whole while. It’s an album rammed full of beautiful songs that beg for repeat listens but here are the three I’ve picked for you to sample from. Enjoy.
“Everything you see tonight is different from itself”: This first track here definitely backs up my point on the band’s evolution. I could be wrong but I don’t remember drum machines being Clientele tropes, nor do I associate horns too much with their music. At six and half minutes, “Everything you see tonight is different from itself” is as much of a mouthful as its name, the length giving itself space to grow and yes, evolve from one thing to the next. The end sounding nothing like the beginning. Heady stuff.
“Lunar days”: After the intro that is reminiscent of children’s windup toys or a midway carousel, “Lunar days” settles into something that more resembles The Clientele we know and love. Gentle guitar plucking piggyback on peppy but understated snare and rim drumming, the strings tease, and Alasdair MacLean’s breathy vocals lilt upon them, like a falling leave upon the breeze. It’s all so easy and free that you feel you could easily just step back into childhood in the late summer, replaying the same dog days, never to return to school.
“Everyone you meet”: Here were are! A pop number! The melody even actually reminds me oddly of something Neil Diamond might have sung. There’s horns and strings and peppy drumming and of course, MacLean’s vocals that are impossible not to love here. He actually sounds like he might be smiling as he sings them. Interesting, then, that he appears to be singing about depression “Everyone you meet breathes low, moving soft and slow, blue very blue. I can’t sleep at night, I don’t know what to do.” I feel like maybe he should just listen to more of his own music. So beautiful.
For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.