The grayness of London fog. Waking up just before dawn to peer out the window. Sickly, pale 20-somethings in overcoats. So goes the imagery of the Clientele, the London-based trio that emerged circa 2000 in the wake of the Belle and Sebastian craze. The Clientele turns the volume down to three with its even more subdued laments, and A Fading Summer EP was perhaps the most haunting, eloquent 15 minutes of music released that year. Various singles, along with A Fading Summer, we’re compiled by Merge Records and released as Suburban Light in late 2000, and just as the band wisped onto the scene, it vanished.
And The Violet Hour, the band’s first proper full-length, is a welcome return for singer/primary songwriter Alaisdair MacLean, who with this full-length is perfecting the whispery, melodic sound that is unique to the Clientele. Few new elements are brought into this effort; we hear the same echo-effect on the vocals, drifting in and out of falsetto, placed over tight, soft, melodic guitar arrangements. What has worked for the band previously is perhaps a bit clearer, more focused and larger in scope, given that this is a proper full-length record. MacLean experiments with layering the vocals on the album’s title track: “So that summer came and went/ and I became cold” is repeated and fugued over guitar loops, fluctuating in tempo. The band even plugs in and gets loud toward the end of album on “The House Always Wins,” only to bring the volume down again before slowly fading out.
Atmosphere is a key element to the Clientele’s sound. You may not be sipping jasmine tea at dawn, contemplating lost loves, or watching Bresson films, but the music makes all this seem ideal. Perhaps this seems boring, and perhaps it is. But this is the space that the Cleintele occupies — contemplative as Belle and Sebastian, introverted as the Smiths, and sometimes maybe slightly unglued as Joy Division. You just can’t help but sigh and sink back in your chair as MacLean, on album standout “When You and I Were Young,” breathes out: “And the whispering house grew still/ As we stared into the night/ In the garden and the lamps/ And the window’s fading light.” Put the kettle on, get comfortable, and hope the Clientele sticks around.