You have to turn up the volume to hear the Clientele, and it’s still quiet. Alasdair Maclean sings in a breathless whisper; their music itself is hazy, like it’s on an old gramophone, playing in your memories. The style itself is such a faithful rendition of shimmery 1960s pop that the act of listening to it is itself a sort of time warp. Not a dream, but it feels that way. By the close of one of their albums, you might need a pinch.
The Violet Hour is technically the London band’s debut, though 2000 witnessed the release of Suburban Light, which cobbled their previously released singles. Those who come to The Violet Hour having heard Suburban Light will hardly be greeted by surprises. Yes, Suburban was a rather mature and cohesive album, but Violet is also as much an addendum to it as it is an album in its own right. Save for cleaner, more deliberate production (which somehow unfetters the songs to make them more weightless), the latest offering blends together—disturbingly so?—with the previous.
So, the Clientele have a shtick—so what? It’s an all-around pleasant one. They write the kind of songs you want to hear because they’re pretty: fluttering melodies, soothsayer harmonies, and campfire-plucky guitar at moderate tempos. The drummer mostly sticks to light cymbal brushes and gentle taps on the snare edges; turning up the bass is useless (and sounds kinda funny). Songs weave their way through the ins and outs of love, youthful days gone past, and bucolic settings of the sort that exist in poetry.
Though the songs are altogether pleasant, they more often than not fail to make a unique impression, instead fading into the background like lovely, though unchanging, scenery. This is an album not for moments, but for moods—the kind you pull out to background your morning bagel and paper or loungey rained-in afternoon, rather than an album with that one must-hear track when you’re so sad or so angry.
That said, a few tracks do stand alone—if for no other reason than that, on their own, they essentialize the fair beauty and sumptuous peace that dominates the record. Among them are “House on Fire”, an almost-soulful pop dirge, and the speedy, persistent drive of “Porcelain”. “The House Always Wins”, coming near the record’s close, meanders gorgeously over its snowballing melody, the lyrics drawn out and reverby, guitar and bass unhurried and purposeful. Lasting for over seven minutes, the song closes with an electric guitar rage that jangles assertively before fading down into familiar acoustic work. It’s a striking effect, and a welcome change.
The final song on the album is titled “Policeman Getting Lost”, which is an apt metaphor for the album entire. The Violet Hour is something of a quest, where the manner of going becomes more consuming, and ultimately more important, than the impetus for pursuit. To be lost can be a welcome release from the otherwise unforgiving, industrious passage of time. The Clientele are lost in this way—using music to forego space, time, and target. Go with them.