Best albums of 2007: #3 The Clientele “God save The Clientele”

Some might remember The Clientele as the purveyors of the surprise #1 album in my Best albums of 2017 back in December. Well, I’ve been loving on this London-based indie pop band for quite some time.

My first encounter with them was their second album, 2003’s “The violet hour”, a reverb-drenched, 60s psych influenced album. They expanded their sound some with string arrangements on “Strange geometry“ in 2005 and following a tour in 2006, added violinist/keyboard player, Mel Draisey to the fold, ensuring more lovely strings for future recordings. “God save The Clientele” does not disappoint in this regard, also including the use of pedal steel and slide guitar to really take their already beautifully full sound even further.

Recorded in the States, where they oddly seem to be more popular than they are in their home country, “God Save The Clientele” is notable among all their albums up to this point for having some honest to goodness and obviously upbeat pop numbers. It initially took me aback, hearing something breathily sung by frontman Alasdair MacLean that I might be able to dance to. Incidentally, it was while The Clientele were on support for this album in the spring of 2007 that I got to see them live for the first time with my good friend Jez, another big fan of the group. And though we didn’t dance, there was plenty to enjoy about the set.

For those that enjoy delicate and lilting psychedelic pop, “God Save The Clientele” might just be your thing. I highly recommend giving them a shot and you could do worse than to start with one of my three picks for you below.

“Winter on Victoria Street”: As I mentioned above, there were some obvious pop numbers on this album and though they were a bit of a surprise, I would count them among my favourites on the album, and this one is included. The bopping piano meander provides the song its structure and both a rhythm and a melody for MacLean to “da da da” along to. Then, he loops his own vocals back so that he is singing in round with himself, a fun effect that reflects the “haunting” theme in the lyrics, a malevolence outside the house where he is trying to “get off” with a girl. Whoops.

“Here comes the phantom”:  Speaking of boppy numbers, the opening tune on the album almost has a “Sweet Caroline” feel, guitars and peppy drums marching in line. And in between such synchronized rhythms are string flourishes that flit and flutter like singing birds. It all feels idyllic and full of sunshine, not at all resembling the crime fighting superhero stories hinted at in the title. Indeed, the lyrics are all wind in the leaves and summer sun and picking flowers. Lovely stuff.

“Bookshop casanova”: Ah yes. Here’s the song. One of the best song titles ever and very likely my favourite out of all The Clientele’s tunes. It’s that ticky-tack tapping on the cymbal and the driving guitar that really does it, and yes, I just said driving guitar in relation to Alasdair MacLean and company. Then, there’s the lovely touch by Mel Draisey’s violin and a wonderful song becomes perfection. And really at its core, the song is about one bookshop clerk attempting seduce another, love in the quietest and most unassuming of places. “Now see that dying summer moon, it’s shining just for me and you.” What a nice thought.

Check back next Thursday for album #2 on this list. In the meantime, go check out albums #10 through #6, #5, #4, and you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my favourite albums of 2017.

Best albums of 2007: #4 The National “Boxer”

I’m starting to feel like a broken record now. I’m certainly noticing a trend and thinking that 2007 must’ve been quite the year of musical discovery for me. Because just like “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse” at #10, Okkervil River’s “The stage names” at #9, and Blonde Redhead’s “23” at #5, “The boxer” at #4 was my introduction to The National, a band finding its feet and releasing a touchstone of an album.

I remember listening to it all the time in 2007. I liked it so much that I went through the trouble to run a cord from my laptop to my old stereo in order to make a copy of the MP3 version of the album on my computer to cassette tape. Yes, I know. The idea seems technologically backwards but my old cavalier didn’t have a CD player or an auxiliary input so the cassette player was the only alternative to commercial radio. It’s an album I listened to all the time in the car in this way and got to know every song intimately. Much later on, it was among the first albums I searched out for my vinyl shelves when I started collecting records again, another step backwards technologically but this step in a cooler set of sneakers.

“The boxer” is the fourth album by the Cincinnati-based five piece and their second on Beggars banquet. Like its predecessor “Alligator” and all the albums that followed, it received near unanimous critical acclaim and appeared on countless year end lists. Their sound appealed to me upon first listen, angular rock that was warm and atmospheric but held a constant threat of danger and darkness. All of their tunes are remarkable for the whiskey smooth baritone of frontman Matt Berninger and for his intelligent use of imagery and a stream of consciousness style of lyrics.

So many great tracks on “Boxer”, it was hard to pick just three tunes for you but here is what I got.

“Ada”: Let me start off by saying that I haven’t done any reading up on and really don’t know for sure what the literal meanings are behind any of these songs but the lyrics are written so that there is so much open for interpretation and it’s fun to conjecture. In the case of “Ada”, I imagine her to be a woman struggling with a psychological disorder, the smattering of keys, seemingly plucked at random reflecting her thought process. Berninger sings to her soothingly, wishing to calm her, willing her to come through on the right side of sanity. “Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, I can hear the sound of your laugh through the wall. Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, I’ve been hoping you know your way ’round.” The strings right at the end are so uplifting, you think that she just might.

“Fake empire”: “Fake empire” is the opening number and starts off calmly enough with a rumbling on the piano but builds and builds to an ecstatic crescendo complete with massive horns. Berninger is talking smack about how we’re all sleep walking through life, making apple pies and drinking spiked lemonade while there is grime and pain creeping in just around the edges of our idyllic photo. But he does none of this angrily or sermon on the mount like, it is all conversational and matter of fact, like he knows we’re all in on it. So optimistic of him.

“Mistaken for strangers”: “Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over, surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults.” Pure awesome. Like the song itself, a paean to the anonymity of life in the big mean world. The idea of being “mistaken for strangers by your own friends” reminds me of the incredible urge I get sometimes to turn away or duck into a doorway when I see someone I know in the street. The drumming is aggressive in your face and the heavy bass is not far behind. This is an example of where The National gets its post-punk tag, on songs like this where the instrumentation is as claustrophobic as Berninger lyrics suggest we all feel. This is probably one of my favourite of all their tunes. So, so, so good.

Check back next Thursday for album #3 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out albums #10 through #6 here, #5 here, and you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my favourite albums of 2017.

Best albums of 2007: #5 Blonde Redhead “23”

Like a couple of the albums I mentioned in the first post of this series, counting down numbers ten through six, this album marks my introduction to the band in question. In the case of Blonde Redhead’s “23”, though, it also marks a monumental shift for a band that had already been toiling for almost fifteen years and had six albums under its belt.

The New York-based trio were originally formed in 1993 by Italian-born twin brothers, Amedeo and Simone Pace and Japanese vocalist Kazu Makino. When I went back to explore their back catalogue after falling in love with “23”, I was surprised to find that all their early stuff was heavily influenced by the no wave noise rock of the late 70s. Their sound changed slightly over the course of their albums but none of them came a shade close to the all out majesty of the shoegaze revival manifested in “23”. So although I could see how their fans up to this point might’ve been disappointed by this new direction, I was most definitely not.

The reason for the shift, a happy accident, was that this particular album was the trio’s first attempt at self-production. They had entered into the studio with only loose ideas for songs and the recording process was a difficult one. By the time they were near complete, the band was unsure what they had. So they brought in Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus And Mary Chain, Ride) to mix it. And well, you can definitely hear his stamp on it.

All ten tracks on “23” are fine, some of the finest they have recorded to this day (in my humble opinion), but for the purposes of this post, here are my three picks for you to sample.

”Dr. Strangeluv”: This one appears as track number two and set against the opener, which I will get to in just a moment, is a lovely comedown. It’s lovely and laidback, a breather, if you will, to let you recharge in time for the rest of the album. Not that this is a throwaway at all. “Dr. Stangeluv” is jangly and new age, utilizing instruments as varied as wind chimes, a cow bell, and a vibraslap, all as part of the massive wall of sound. You might miss them if you don’t listen closely but if you removed them, the jenga tower would fall.

”Silently”: “Silently” is a dance number. Critics have even gone so far as to call it ABBA played through a shoegaze microphone. I suppose I can hear it now but only did so after they mentioned it. It is definitely as light a number as Blonde Redhead have ever done. However, there’s a heavy bass beat, a wicked bass line, pluck guitars, and shakers, and it all gets under your skin, And then there’s the ethereal vocals that float and flit above it all, as if a mist that divides and subdivides and comes back together, like a living, loving mass. Wow.

”23”: Ermagard! This track is just so awesome! As an opening number, you could do no better. Those synths at the beginning that almost sound like church bell gongs morph into delicious washes. The rhythm is relentless, making it impossible to tell where the machine ends and the drummer begins. There are so many effects and loops that the layers of guitar hint at an army of them rather than just the two. And Kazu Makino’s vocals are wonderful here, delicate yet bold, filling every space not already clogged up by the rest of noise. This is a tune built for earphones and rocking out in your own head.

Check back next Thursday for album #4 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out albums #10 through #6 here and you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my favourite albums of 2017.