Wednesday, November 4, 2009

THE CLIENTELE - Bonfires On the Heath - LP

The Clientele
Bonfires On the Heath
2009, Merge Records
8 out of 10

Of the select group of my friends who pride themselves on being knowledgeable in music that matters, not one could be counted on to posit an opinion when asked the question “What do you think of the new Clientele album?” One audiophile in particular, who is in possession of a considerably great ear for folk-tinged English melodies, told me that his interest in The Clientele had waned ever since the band’s second album proper, Strange Geometry. How could it be that one of the best slow-rock bands in the World has been reduced to being so woefully under-appreciated by people who (should) know better?

For the uninitiated, The Clientele are three English lads (Alasdair Maclean, James Hornsey, Mark Keen) and one gal (Mel Draisey, added to the line-up in 2007, whom I also presume is English) who produce brilliantly wispy Merseybeat chamber pop that I can only imagine sounds better on an overcast day while piloting a 1967 Jaguar X-Type in the English countryside. Landing somewhere in the neighborhood of Nick Drake, Cardinal, Belle and Sebastian, and Love, The Clientele’s mix of sorrow and whimsy makes for a brilliant lovelorn companion.

On their forth album, Bonfires On the Heath, The Clientele still retain much of what made their early singles so appealing: thoughtfully expansive and melancholy AM radio melodies akin to that of a frozen lake of honey for lead singer Maclain’s hushed vocals to effortlessly glide upon. Due in no small part to Draisey’s myriad contributions, (violin, piano, organ, backing vocals, and even the glockenspiel are employed as a compliment to arrangements), Bonfires On the Heath is a brilliant affair from start to finish.

As with their 2007 release, God Save The Clientele, the band seems to be slowly charting out more – dare I say - "upbeat" tiers of their ivy covered cottage. “I Wonder Who We Are” opens the album with a marimba boardwalk beat so infectious it would make you appear to be a complete ass if you didn’t shake and shimmy along to it. The same can be said for “Share The Night”, “Sketch”, and the Arthur Lee-esque “I Know I Will See Your Face”. Melancholia is, however, The Clientele’s stock and trade, and they do so with absolute heart-breaking aplomb on tracks such as “Graven Wood”, “Jennifer and Julia”, and “Harvest Time”. The title track is the perfect accompaniment to watching yellow and orange leaves fall from the arched trees on your street.



If I had to register one complaint with Bonfires On the Heath, it would have to be the track order. While “I Wonder Who We Are” is a wonderful song, it starts the album a bit abruptly and is immediately followed by not one, but two ballads (which, as I’ve just mentioned are quite wonderful). “Share the Night” is a great Side Two opener, while “Tonight” would have made a much better album closer than “Walking In the Park.” Of course these are the small, irrelevant quibbles of a lowly reviewer for an album that is admittedly near flawless.

As for this record being ignored by my audiophile peers? Well, I must admit that I’m at a loss. How can the honeymoon be over when The Clientele has brought fractured romance to spare?

I’m sure these friends will come back around… at least I hope they will.

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