The Clientele return from a six-year hiatus
On The Clientele’s latest album, Music For The Age Of Miracles, the band makes their return from a six-year hiatus with lush arrangements and a newfound sense of maturity. This is the band’s eighth studio album, and it serves as a crisp reintroduction to the band’s signature style of soft psychedelic rock. Their method of storytelling has escalated to include Orphic myth and stargazing, yet the group has preserved their autumnal sensibilities.
The group’s primary songwriter, Alasdair MacLean, explored new musical territory while The Clientele was on hiatus, releasing two albums with the flamenco-folk fusion side-project, Amor di Dias. In addition, MacLean had a son during the group’s hiatus — part of the inspiration behind this album’s title, the miracle of fatherhood, of parenthood. Hence, this sense of entropy, and perhaps lack of sleep.
And now with The Clientele’s return, listeners can expect the band’s earlier trademarks: infectious instrumentation, the sonic embodiment of memories, a perfect marriage of reserved tone and vibrant content, all of which score the songs on Music For The Age Of Miracles. The album never fully gets to the sharp and driving levels of its predecessors; rather, the collection of songs here circle around themes of mortality and aged romanticism, a classical and Eastern music-fuelled self-refection.
Perhaps three or four songs in, you’re feeling something you can’t really verbalize — a classic trait of their music. The group displays an uncanny ability to capture a distinct feeling that you weren’t quite sure you could feel in the first place. MacLean said in an interview with the 405, “I think that what we try and do really is reflect the changing light, that feeling of changes in light that happen as the year changes.” A great majority of the songs on their new album either directly refer to light and light changes, or the changing of constellations in the sky (“Lyra in April,” “Lyra in October,” etc.).
The album opens with “The Neighbour,” filled with folk-revival ecstasy, and marks an early centerpiece for the album; an opening medley which lingers into “Lyra in April,” “Lunar Day,” and “Falling Asleep.” This first movement is chock-full of softly sung harmonies, very unconventional “rock” instruments (like harp, sitar, and sultur — an Iranian dulcimer) and pattering rhythms. Very suddenly, we find ourselves in new musical territory for The Clientele.
The piano-fuelled track “Lyra in April” floats along in soft plumage before fastening onto “Lunar Days,” which plays like a Nick Drake-esque waltz, and reflects a reluctant embrace of November: “As the summer turns, I seem to fall away / gaps in the light / the lunar days,” sings MacLean. The song has an eerie swing to it, as if someone has soundtracked a wintry walk around a lake or a twilight stroll through an English village. The tempered rhythms, backed by a groovy bass line and a sprightly string orchestration, all seek to portray a changing neighborhood, the area of London where MacLean now lives.
MacLean’s son appears to be a primary source of inspiration on the album. The song “Falling Asleep” is steeped in alpha waves (the same idea-ridden impulses felt just before falling asleep), and the song sounds inexplicably calm, like a psychedelic lullaby. According to another MacLean interview, this track grew out of moments in which he’d play the guitar for his son, trying to get him to fall asleep: “There would be certain things he’d respond to and I’d think, ‘Oh yeah, that would be a good first chord for a song,'” MacLean said. With lyrics about MacLean drifting off into daydreams, where at night “the beauty sweeps across my face,” it’s clear that this might very well have been a song he sang to his son during these moments at dusk.
“The Circus” blends classical folk with Eastern music scales in a rather stunning way — the song is nicely paired with “Falling Asleep” in this sense. “Museum of Fog” features an excerpt from MacLean’s forthcoming novel, delivered over a groovy, almost meditative rhythm and flawlessly arranged for the selection of prose. Final track, “The Age of Miracles,” revisits the album’s themes with Lennon-inspired reverb and a full orchestral conclusion, plus an homage to Nataraaj, Hindu god of the exotic dance.
Music For The Age Of Miracles is a strong comeback record for The Clientele. There is some experimentation on the album, but not enough for one to warrant calling the music a sharp pivot in any specific direction. The band is still comfortable in their particular sound, and they’re embracing the change that’s all around them, all the time, and making it sound as luscious as a peaceful dream.