Last month saw the return of LCD Soundsystem who split up with some highly publicised farewell shows in 2011. The Clientele were also inactive in that same time period after they went on a more low-key indefinite hiatus following 2010’s Minotaur. The return of the band is good news for their modest but dedicated fanbase, and it’s also good news for anyone looking for a good starting point to jump into this wonderful group. They might not be getting the hero’s welcome that LCD Soundsystem received, but it’s their masterpiece.
Music For The Age Of Miracles embodies their previous sound, further developing their love of 60s pop and 80s indie. ‘The Neighbour’ brilliantly reintroduces their lovingly crafted aesthetic and is their most satisfying opener since ‘Since K Got Over Me’. The hazy harmonies and layered vocals give it a warmth that’s halfway between the dreamy baroque pop of Strange Geometry and the string-drenched God Save The Clientele.
The first single, ‘Lunar Days’ brims with a sense of nostalgia that’s always been vital to their appeal. One of the band’s biggest strengths is how they use textures and their attention to detail. The little bursts of 70s soul inspired backing vocals are utterly charming. The melody takes unexpected twists, giving it a neo-psychedelic touch. The detailed arrangements never sound fussy or over-complicated — they sound blissful and completely organic. It’s a song that brings back some of the dreamy mystery of Suburban Light and The Violet Hour.
The record’s centrepiece is the six-minute long, ‘Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself’. The opening recalls their career highlight, ‘Bookshop Casanova’, with a gentle disco beat. The fluttering of harps and eventual introduction of trumpets are further evidence of how they cloak these arrangements with tiny details. ‘Everyone You Meet’ is a quintessential Clientele song with lush strings and triumphant brass. It effectively contrasts positivity (“everyone you meet breathes love”) and melancholy, (“blue baby blue I can’t sleep at night, I can’t get up for you”).
Their music has a gift for tapping into certain seasons or times of day. ‘Falling Asleep’ contains a lovely sun-kissed string section that’s evocative of late summer night. The three short musical interludes provide shimmering autumnal atmospherics. ‘The Circus’ has an immersed pastoral mood perfected on Michael Head’s The Magical World Of The Strands or by Nick Drake.
‘The Museum Of Fog’ continues their tradition of featuring spoken word song ( ‘Losing Haringey’ and ‘The Garden At Night’) towards the end of the record. Saint Etienne have recently been doing a similar thing. It helps give the album a feeling of cohesion.
‘The Age Of Miracles’ is a staggering and climatic closer as MacLean’s repeats, “turning corners into light”. He continues to paint vivid pictures, often referencing mythology with a whisper that calms and guides these gorgeous songs. Mark Keen and James Hornsey provide soft and comforting rhythms as he sings, “lately I’ve been living like I’m so far away, like I’m somebody else, in some other place”. When the romantic strings blend into another uplifting brass section, it gives the album’s final moments a sense of jubilation that is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The flawless run of albums The Clientele made in their original run gained some acclaim, but didn’t get the sales they deserved. They were the 00’s equivalent of Felt or The Go-Betweens (two of the finest-ever guitar bands, that are an obvious influence on The Clientele). MacLean recently said he’d only make this record if they grew. He’s kept to his word as they’ve broadened their sound and this is sonically their most ambitious release. The increased scope of instruments, courtesy of Mary Lattimore and Anthony Harmer, contribute to this majestic record.
This is an album that encapsulates absolutely everything that makes The Clientele one of the best groups the UK has ever produced. Music For The Age Of Miracles is a glorious return from music’s best-kept secret.