The Clientele: Minotaur

Whether it is a last gasp from an unusually consistent band, or merely a palate-clearing exercise pointing the way towards a perhaps more experimental direction to be found on a follow-up LP, Minotaur is buoyed by an excellent front half and a less stellar back end.

The Clientele


Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2010-08-31
UK Release Date: 2010-09-06

It seemed for a while that last year’s Bonfires on the Heath would be the final time anyone heard from the Clientele, an English band with a penchant for lush, lazy psychedelic pop that recalls such ‘60s acts as the Zombies and the Association. In a May 2009 interview with Pitchfork, lead singer Alasdair MacLean said this of Bonfires on the Heath: “I think it'd close the chapter quite well. If you don't have any more ideas you should just go away, I guess.” In the end, the Clientele obviously had more ideas that they wanted to commit to tape, as they have, just less than a year later, issued a new eight-song, nearly 27-minute-long mini-album called Minotaur.

You might have a hard time hunting down Minotaur in record stores, as it has been issued in a limited edition of only 1,000 copies on compact disc. However, the album is available online from the Merge Records website (as well as in MP3 form from such usual suspects as Amazon and iTunes), and obtaining this mini-album on the web might be the route to go, because you can cherry pick which songs you’d like to get. The first four songs come highly recommended, but after that the EP lapses into material that only the most diehard fans who must have everything by this band will want to buy.

The Clientele is arguably indie rock’s most literate band, taking their inspiration from everything from the poems of T.S. Eliot and surrealist poetry to folk tales. (Having a song titled “Bookshop Casanova” in their back catalogue only heightens their literary acumen.) MacLean is known for his breathless trademark singing, an effect that is bolstered by plugging his microphone into a guitar amplifier. Plus, the rainy, autumnal London-esque sound that the band conjures is apt to be best appreciated in a haze of laudanum or absinthe -- or, for those who would prefer something less opiate or alcoholic, a warm cup of hot chocolate. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, but the band has a distinct trademark sound that sort of blends in together on their records to create an LP’s worth of moody melancholic songs, despite recent forays into pedal steel and slide guitar country rock on 2007’s God Save the Clientele and a brief flirtation with sunny ‘60s pop through “I Wonder Who We Are” on Bonfires on the Heath.

The front half of Minotaur harkens back to the Clientele’s reverb-heavy psychedelic pop signature sound, perfected on albums like 2003’s The Violet Hour and 2005’s Strange Geometry. However, there are a few nuances that differentiate these songs from falling backwards into the group’s old style. The lead-off track, “Minotaur” -- which MacLean sings in the seemingly more British pronunciation minah-taur instead of the more standard minnow-taur -- is augmented by swooping strings during its chorus, as well as what could be an acoustic guitar playing lovely arpeggios as though it were a harp. (This is appropriate, considering that the word "arpeggio" in Italian, “arpeggiare”, means “to play on a harp”. There goes the Clientele with their nods to literature in the meanings of words.) While “Minotaur” is a song written from the perspective of the fabled monster from Greek mythology, one waiting for the hero Theseus to slay it, MacLean seems to be referring perhaps to the group’s general lack of commercial success (the band is more popular in the US than its native Britain) in its opening lines: “I dreamed one night / That I was young / But life had passed me by”. It’s a startling song, one that doesn’t quite reach the heights of, say, “Since K Got Over Me”, but it is a beautiful tune on its own merits, and helps to elevate this collection beyond the standard flotsam and jetsam usually found on EPs.

The songs that immediately follow the title track are almost equally breathtaking. “Jerry” sees the Clientele giving a nod to Television’s “Marquee Moon” in that there’s a guitar break where a series of chords are played in ascending scale-like fashion. “As the World Rises and Falls” is a slinky, countrified song with pedal steel and slide guitar a la God Save the Clientele, with a piano tinkling its way through the chorus. “Paul Verlaine” is a somewhat sunny affair complete with a “dah-dah-dah” scat line and a xylophone (whose name is also taken from the Greek) that recalls the work of Belle and Sebastian, and cutely rhymes the word porcelain with Verlaine. The song references “Cyclops in the streets”, furthering the band’s flirtation with mythology on this short album. It is also worth noting that Paul Verlaine was a 19th century French poet, reinforcing the Clientele’s literary aspirations once more.

However, this EP somewhat falls apart after the peak of “Paul Verlaine”. The fifth song, “Strange Town”, is pleasant and is kind of a brighter inverse of “Minotaur” with its similarly harp-like guitar, but it lasts only one minute and 40 seconds long -- too brief to make any kind of impact with its verse-chorus-verse. It literally just stops on a dime, making it seem like a barely-thought out throwaway. “No. 33”, which follows, is a similarly brief piano dirge that strangely recalls the Apples in Stereo’s musical interludes that pepper Her Wallpaper Reverie, and its presence here appears to be mere novel twaddle. Then there’s “The Green Man” , a more than five minute surrealist tone poem not unlike “Losing Haringey” from Strange Geometry. The problem is that the piece already seems rote by the Clientele’s standards -- as noted, they’ve done this sort of thing before -- and despite the inclusion of what an endearing vocal stumble, the piece doesn’t feel like an actual song, being backed up with some wintery wind sound effects and clanging noises. It’s hard to actually enjoy “The Green Man” as a result, and it just feels like a band spinning its wheels and going over some familiar territory. Finally, “Nothing Here Is What It Seems” nicks the melody from Simon and Garfunkle’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” to a point where the latter has great ammunition for launching a plagiarism suit, if they had the time and inclination.

Whether it is a last gasp from an unusually consistent band or merely a palate-clearing exercise pointing the way towards a perhaps more experimental direction to be found on a follow-up LP, Minotaur is buoyed by an excellent front half and a less stellar back end. Still, here’s hoping that there is more music to be heard from the Clientele, because, even with its missteps and filler, Minotaur is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone following this band. It would have been a stronger mini-album had it lopped off the detritus and made a more cohesive literary statement with just the first four songs, but the great thing about the advent of downloadable music is that the listener can essentially create their own version of a record. That would be the recommended path of following this Minotaur. If you do decide to take on the whole thing, just remember to carry a ball of yarn with you so that you don’t get lost navigating the final approach.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.