The Violet Hour
Nearly everything I’ve seen written about The Clientele compares them with Belle & Sebastian, my all-time favorite band. Yet, somehow all of The Clientele’s releases have flown below my radar and I’ve been denied the experience of listening to them until now.
The Violet Hour kicks off with a thick layer of haze, more like Galaxie 500 or Felt than B&S, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. The most jarring aspect of the opening song is singer Alasdair MacLean’s voice: an amalgamation of B&S’s Stuart Murdoch’s lisp, Nick Drake’s wisp and Tom Waits’s rasp. It takes a little while to warm up to, but soon becomes just as inviting as any of those singing greats.
There is a very distant, dusty feel to the tremolo-bursting guitar that wavers in and out of the album. Though there is no overt concept to the album, the music is very reflective and shimmering, supporting and intensifying the bittersweet nostalgia contained in the lyrics. As the cover art illustrates, these are songs for long train trips taken at dusk or dawn with a rolling countryside palette on which to project childhood and adolescent remembrances (“When You and I Were Young,” “The House Always Wins”).
MacLean’s perfect attention to detail is evident on many songs once the tape hiss and his strong accent have been cracked. On “When You and I Were Young” he sings, “Night-time comes / the birds have flown / a fever glows in every line / I love this season / this weary night.” It’s lyrics like these that make the album so wonderfully romantic because they are so specific and still remain general.
While The Clientele might not sound as much like B&S acolytes as I’d been lead to believe, their songs have a familiarity that makes me want to wrap this album around me through Michigan’s fall and winter. This is definitely one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. I only wish I’d gotten to it sooner.