Album Review : The Clientele’s ‘Music for the Age of Miracles’

Before listening to the new Clientele album titled Music for the Age of Miracles I wasn’t all that familiar with the London band. I imagined some dark, brooding group with pale skin and weathered suits playing music that was somewhere between Bauhaus and This Mortal Coil. Maybe there were goblets of blood and incantations involved, too. Turns out I was so off the mark it’s not even funny(well maybe a little.) The Clientele, at least in their current form, are regal-sounding. Pastoral pop with hints of 1970s breezy cats like Al Stewart, latter-era John Lennon, and even a hint of Gilbert O’ Sullivan in singer/guitarist Alasdair MacLean’s well contoured vocals. The band, which consists of MacLean, James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums, piano, percussion), and old MacLean friend Anthony Harmer, have churned out a beautiful collection of 12 tracks that display a concise and lush spirit. And from my point of view, no previous experience with the band is required.

One of the big changes on this record is Anthony Harmer’s use of string arrangements, percussion, and the use of the Santoor, an Iranian instrument that resembles a dulcimer. It’s use is peppered throughout the record. “Falling Asleep” benefits greatly from this instrument. The track builds with the santoor, guitar, and a loping drum. There’s an Echo and the Bunnymen vibe here too that gives the song a kind of classicist vibe. “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself” has a breezy, melancholy feel to it. The music, while low key and pleasant, possesses a certain darkness that doesn’t make itself apparent on first listen.

Elsewhere, album opener “The Neighbor” sounds like a less pensive The National while “Lyra In April” has an almost chamber pop feel. If the storied walls of a century-old library could bleed music it might sound like this track. “Constellations Echo Lanes” sounds like a thousand lonely nights thinking of someone you want but can never have. Simply gorgeous and heartbreaking. Album closer “The Age Of Miracles” brings back a little of that National sound, but sparser and quieter like echoes of “Anybody here?” in a once warm home, now an abandoned house.

Music for the Age of Miracles is the first Clientele album in 7 years. It seems a chance encounter with an old friend gave new life to Alasdair MacLean’s musical outlet for the last 20 years. Good thing, as it’s an absolutely gorgeous return.

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