Release Date: Sep 22, 2017
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
There’s always a worry when a band comes back from a hiatus or break up that they’re doing it for the wrong reasons, that they won’t be able to recapture their previous greatness or they’ll hew too closely to their previous sound that they end up sounding like a faded version of their former selves. The Clientele never intended to return after their 2010 mini-album The Minotaur, but a series of events including offers to play gigs with the original lineup and a chance encounter between Alasdair MacLean and a long-lost musical acquaintance spurred the old machine back into life again. Thus we have Music For The Age Of Miracles, and we should be thankful that fate turned out this way.
Alasdair MacLean’s psych-hued dream-pop crew nurtured seductive worlds of their own over six albums in the 2000s, seeming to occupy a bubble outside of time, with judicious nods to 60s forebears such as Love. After various extra-curricular and touring activities, The Clientele return refreshed and uncannily preserved on their first album in seven years, lit up like a beacon of self-contained consistency and own-terms growth for uncertain times. MacLean’s ability to evoke autumnal moods is clear from the opening of The Neighbour: “Evening’s hymn conjures the park,” he coos, paving the way for dreamy reflections on lovers alone.
It's been a long wait for a The Clientele album. After the release of Minotaur in 2010, the band took a long hiatus that ended in 2014 with a tour and the release of two singles. To many fans, it signified the imminent release of an album, yet it wasn't the band's game plan. Your average indie group would have strived to rush-release some product to fill the coffers, but The Clientele's creative process isn't aligned with marketing strategies.
It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since Hampshire cult favourites The Clientele last released a record of new material, 2010’s slight, somewhat disappointing mini-album Minotaur. Since then, Alasdair MacLean, singer and principal songwriter for the band, has made two albums with his partner, Lupe Núñez- Fernández, as Amor de Días; curated the release of best-of compilation Alone And Unreal; overseen reissues of the band’s back catalogue high points Suburban Light and Strange Geometry, and played shows solo and with Amor de Días and The Clientele. MacLean and Núñez- Fernández have also been raising a family together, so it’s hardly surprising that fresh songs have been so long in coming.
There are artists who experiment relentlessly and continuously release a totally different sounding album from the one before it, breaking new ground and challenging their audience in the process. And then there are artists like The Clientele. Once Alasdair MacLean opens his mouth and starts to sing the breathy words to "The Neighbour," you immediately know it's The Clientele.
Greatest hits compilations are no longer considered to be the headstones of a once-active band. But when English band the Clientele released Unreal & Alone a couple of years back, fans of the critically-acclaimed pop outfit must have been wondering if they were ever going to get back in the saddle again. A solid seven years have passed since the band released any new material and singer Alasdair MacLean appeared to have moved on to a new project with Amor de D.
Alasdair MacLean closes Music for the Age of Miracles with what can be called a confession: “Lately I’ve been living like I’m so far away/Like I’m somebody else, in some other place,” he sings during the chorus of the record’s last and best song, “The Age of Miracles,” a beautiful reflection on adjusting to the effects of age and the arc of time. MacLean’s voice peaks just past its usual reverb-trailed whisper, a bit of urgency suggesting he’s now got something to do, somewhere to be. It is a moment of sudden self-recognition on the first full album from his softly psychedelic British band the Clientele in seven years, an act of blinking awake after a late-afternoon nap or an idle year in comfort and complacency.
Rock & roll is where you find it. Likewise, the exotic. Which may explain why The Clientele, a band as unmistakably of the southern part of England as any, ever, have fared better in America than in their own country. They are one of those acts whose music captures so completely a sense of time and place, it might almost have been painted rather than played.
The ordinary turns luminous in this eighth full-length from Alasdair MacLean's Clientele, as soft layers of guitar, murmuring vocals and lush swathes of strings swaddle rueful melodies. These songs masterfully distill the nothing-much epiphanies of changing seasons and glancing contact with the world into gemlike intervals. They are so gentle that they seem to evaporate into mist even as you listen, and yet they are nowhere near as fragile as they seem; very ordinary imagery of walking home, rubbing elbows with post-work crowds as the light fades are so tenderly rendered that the songs have some of the sweetness of life itself, some of its strangeness and fleeting beauty.