At its core, the Clientele’s music has always been all about evanescence — and we’re not talking about that awful goth-emo-whatever band. There’s a sense of something slipping away, something you barely get a glimpse of before it swoops out of sight. Sometimes it’s singer-songwriter Alasdair MacLean’s aching sense of nostalgia for lost youth, sometimes the memories of romances left behind; both things play into his lyrical outlook. But that bittersweet pain, that empty ache, has rarely been more overt than on the Clientele’s fifth album, Bonfires on the Heath.
Despite the fact that it features some of the most relatively upbeat musical moments the band has offered in recent memory, from the R&B-tinged bounce of “I Wonder Who We Are” and “Share the Night” to the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floydish interstellar overdrive of “Sketch,” Bonfires is haunted by so many ghosts, shadows, and spectres that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been pushed back a couple of weeks for a release date as close to Halloween as possible. The aforementioned high-energy moments notwithstanding, though, this is still a Clientele album, which means it’s still overflowing with luscious, gentle, autumnal psych-pop. All the better to frame the fragile feeling that flows from the lyrics starting with the very first track. “The loveliest season has taken you,” croons MacLean in his trademark reverb-soaked whisper, asserting that even the most welcome elements of his world can spirit away the things he cares about. The feeling of impermanence is brought even closer to home in the very next line, “Write my name in the leaves.”
Short of a beach at high tide, there are few more temporary places to stake your claim. But that flash of a golden moment in between something sparking in the air and fading quickly away is all the Clientele are living for in this batch of heart-breakingly beautiful tunes, and its what Bonfires on the Heath seems to hold in the center of its heart.