It’s not until about three songs in that you realize where you left off with the Clientele. Three years ago, the indie rockers released a compilation showcasing a sound that, as ripe as it was with Byrdsian descending scales and harmonies, stole even more liberally from the sound of pastoral jangle circa 1984. Think Felt. Think the Go-Betweens. Think Sarah Records.
So the first few tracks on The Violet Hour float by unassumingly enough. Blame it on the travel time it takes to slip into the Clientele’s headspace. You don’t often come across something so clouded-over, intricate, and yet passionate — a mindset where tossing off awkward glances and sitting in overcast parks can indicate a sort of inverted passion for life.
It’s the fourth track, “Missing,” when the familiar flourishes, accents, and echoing, reverbed vocals come together in full force. While not necessarily the best song on the album, it does embody everything great about the Clientele. It starts with a light touch on the acoustic guitar, followed by vocalist Alasdair Maclean’s first few verses in his amplified whisper, and then a crisp, rough drum sound that brings the whole thing into focus. It’s simple, yet revelatory. Pretentious films could be validated just by including snippets of the Clientele’s take on pop dynamics.
The band occupies a space that isn’t too precious or too clever or too lyrically abstract, instead radiating a bookish, coastal, summery charm. The lyrical fragments don’t give you much to hold on to; instead, the group focuses on musical interaction — the eight-minute “The House Always Wins,” for example, locks into an unexpected, narcotic trance. The interlocking pieces of these tracks connect to form some truly amazing soft-lens, sunshine-drenched pop psychedelia. They’re pop songs one and all, but the Clientele reminds you why pop has long been the favored pastime of those both full of life and broken of heart.