July 13, 2003

The Clientele "The Violet Hour"

It's been a bit of a wait, this. I can still remember how, in the throes of heartbreak, a friend of mine told me about this most melancholy band from England, who only released seven inch singles and who sounded like a lot like the Zombies. Of course, being heartbroken and mopey-eyed, I quickly rushed to buy up their records--often paying a few dollars more than normal for those import fees. It really didn't matter, though, because those fuzzy songs were worth every penny. I even made a tape of them and contemplated sending them to my ex, because I wanted even my worst enemy to hear this amazing little band from England.

That was 1999. Those songs were compiled for an album, Suburban Light, but if you had most of the singles, there was no need for the album. One lone EP appeared in 2002, and it was--different. The songs were...longer...sadder....better. It was the first time I heard them on compact disc, too. The format didn't seem quite right, but at the same time, the band sounded great, the songs were longer, darker, and possessing a certain depth that their previous recordings lack. I have to give them credit; even though their musical style hasn't really changed, they've never flooded the world with tons of records ever few months, either. Thus, their strict adherence to their original style never grows old or tired, and you'll never be wont to say "can't they do something a little bit different?"

Personally, I love The Violet Hour. You don't need irony to appreciate them; their music is so simple, so basic, so...uncomplicated...that you really don't have to think about it. Like a great love poem or a Beethoven sonata, you don't have to work at appreciating it. Gone are those little twinkles of Sixties pop; The Clientele are ultra-modern, even if their sound is quiet, gentle, and unassuming. Maclean and company are simply brilliant; but, what's more, their music is extremely complex, but they make it seem so rudimentary, so basic, so...simple. Isn't that a sign of true genius? I would argue that Maclean is certainly an underappreciated talent, and I'd use The Violet Hour as proof. The songs remain the same, even as they grow longer, slower, and sadder. Throw in nice little acoustic guitar riffs, some piano, a few field recordings, and even a hint or two of jazz, and you've got a nice little combination. Though I'm fond of every track, I'm particularly taken to "Porcelain," "Voices in the Mall" and "The House Always Wins."

As usual, The Clientele have yet to lose their cinematic quality; all of the songs on The Violet Hour sound as if they belong in the closing credits to some long-lost 1970s European art film. Alasdair Maclean still has one of the most distinctive voices ever, and I wonder if he learned a long time ago that when you speak (or sing) very quietly, you force people to concentrate on what it is you are saying. You really have to listen to Maclean to pick up on what he's saying; his voice is a simple wisp among the pretty guitars, and once you pick up on what he's saying, you'll realize you've just been impressed by some of the most subtle and prettiest songs ever. In fact, maybe he's trying to be subliminally somber, trying to make a generation of college students mopey and sad-eyed via the gentle sounds of The Violet Hour? Perhaps that's not such a bad aspiration after all. The greatest accomplishment of The Violet Hour? They're no longer comparable to Belle & Sebastian.

Album of the year? Umm...it's only July; too soon to say, my friend! But, erm, uh, just say that I smiled when you asked me that question.

--Joseph Kyle

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