Dissonance is the stuff that binds this British four-piece. The group's latest, God Save the Clientele, is deceptively simple on first listen, and even a bit of an anachronism (what 21st-century audience can you attract with the kind of pageboy-haircut music that might have served as filler in an after-school special?). On the other hand, it has a richness and subtlety of thought that might lead you to believe each note was assiduously mapped out and given a distinct purpose.
Take the album's fifth track, "From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica" (also the title of singer Alasdair MacLean's blog, on which he quotes Ovid, Thomas de Quincey, and Robert Browning). It opens with a sumptuous string arrangement, which gives his Spanish-guitar melody and mournful emo-rock vocals the quality and intensity of an aria: One more night in the town has spun you around to the house in the dark ... Voices in the park following us down to Vincent Street. Listening, you're teleported to a kind of magical-realist Brighton Beach purgatory where the slatternly Victorians and beachside hotels cluster together like so many faces in a crowd. This melancholy sentiment resonates in the thick, whispery harmonies of "No Dreams Last Night," which features country-and-Western-ish pedal-steel.
God Save the Clientele borrows the highly literate and deeply sad sensibility of the band's 2005 album, Strange Geometry characterized by the gorgeous love ballad "I Can't Seem to Make You Mine" and kicks it up a notch, particularly with Louis Philippe's classical-sounding string sections, and the addition of multi-instrumentalist Mel Draisey. It is, on the surface, the work of an indie band steeped in the pop tradition of its '60s and '70s forerunners. But beneath that pretty patina, the Clientele is all stark emotion, as dramatic and well-defined as Ovid's lines about haunted streets and "roaming ghosts of the dead" which sounds, uncannily, like Clientele lyrics.
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