I first ran across The Clientele on the radio, which is becoming a rare thing to listen for me. Whenever it does occur to me to turn it on, though, I am pleasantly surprised when a song really captures me. This is what happened to me when I first heard “Lunar Days” by The Clientele. Both catchy and fresh, the song took me in and now has brought me to write this review of the band’s latest album, “Music for the Age of Miracles.”
Just by the album’s title I’m reminded of that old Paul Simon song “The Boy in the Bubble.” On that song’s chorus, Simon sings “These are the days of miracle and wonder / this is the long distance call.” I was more recently struck by this phrase when Peter Gabriel recorded a haunting version of the Simon song for his orchestral album “Scratch My Back.” Every time I hear it I’m struck by that line, reminded that miracles happen around us everyday.
London-based The Clientele seem taken by the same feeling on “Music For the Age of Miracles,” which sounds refreshingly new while also steeping itself in the sounds of 60s psychedelic folk. It’s the band’s first album in seven years, and a great continuing of the style they have cultivated over the better part of the last twenty years.
As a whole the album is a lazy, meandering journey through the band’s psychedelic landscape. The highlights here are the aforementioned “Lunar Days” and sparkling “The Age of Miracles.” In “Lunar Days,” the hazy instrumental atmosphere unites inside a song dripping with mood, reminiscing the sweet melodies of bands like The Beatles in their heyday.
If this was 1965, fans would be going crazy over The Clientele. Now it feels like intense nostalgia as lead singer Alasdair Maclean sings “Holloways / Lunar days / Down in the streets they’re falling in love.” Delicate strings and ghostly backing vocals surround Maclean’s voice, culminating in an altogether lovely track that keeps me coming back for more.
It’s made even nicer by the sweet sounds of the instrumental “Lyra in April” that precedes it, which is a delicate track that shimmers like a pond that’s just been hit by a skipping stone.
Another highlight is the spoken word track called “The Museum of Fog.” It’s an extract from a novel that MacLean has yet to complete, and only adds to the album’s wandering, daydream quality.
The downside of the album is that it’s a bit too gentle at times. The songs tend to run together in unchanging haze, wavering little from the record’s central sound. The core of that sound is so nice that I’m sure many fans won’t mind. This is the sort of record you can put on and forget about, then when it’s over think to yourself just how pleasant the experience was. In the way this collection of songs strikes a place between mood and songcraft, I applaud The Clientele.
The more you pay attention to the music, though, the more it pays off. Standout track “The Age of Miracles” begins with the sparkle of classical guitar, layering slowly over itself with the drenching vocals of MacLean and an uplifting backing of strings. Though the other tracks employ the same elements of beauty, “The Age of Miracles” dazzles with its powerful melody, which balance against its enchanting atmosphere with wonderful precision.
“Music for the Age of Miracles” is out now on Merge Records.
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