cornflower blue skied picnics

The Clientele

There are some good things about having a car, but I still don't think they're all that great. I still feel a bit like it's all a bit of a compromise and that the convenience it brings has also caused other, more vital things in life to slip away. I realise this every time I have to walk across town to get a lift to work (I'm only ever a passenger in cars; I still cannot drive them myself) or when I walk out on my own to meet friends in pubs on the other side of town. I realise this when I have the chance to plug in my headphones and immerse myself in sounds, and the delight is so strong and pure that it always takes me by surprise, and for an instant I think about being rude in cars and plugging into my sounds like I would on the bus, but that's not acceptable is it? And tape players in cars are never good enough with anything except pounding rock and techno and anyway you can be sure that whatever you want to listen to will be pissing off the driver or other passengers, so… travel becomes soundtrack-less. Which is a regret.

Someone recently posted a message on the Magnetic Fields mailing list about the group The Clientele, saying that most of the time they sounded like they needed a good kick up the arse, but that when standing on a bridge over the Thames in the mist (or something similar) they sounded just right, and although I think that's perhaps a little unfair I also applaud the sentiment wholeheartedly. I have been listening to The Clientele a lot recently, and the only times it sounds in the slightest RIGHT is when I'm alone with the sound in my headphones whilst walking in the early morning or late at night.

I like The Clientele for many reasons, and many of those reasons are nothing to do with what The Clientele sound like. Or perhaps they are everything to do with what The Clientele sound like, but are certainly not much to do with music. I listen to The Clientele and I move around in my own world, going back and forth from pasts to presents to futures imaginable but utterly elusive. That's the magic of the finest Pop of course, which you either Get or Don't Get. Which is fair enough of course.

The Clientele make great references, which is terrific for people like me. They nod obviously to Felt and to Galaxie 500 (in their Popest moments) and perhaps more obliquely to Hellfire Sermons. There is a great story concerning bass player James Hornsey that tells how he took a University place in Liverpool because he thought he would be able to see more of the Hellfire Sermons. I don't know if he ever felt it paid off though; the Sermons being tragically under-exposed except in the out of the light places where great Pop tends to dwell naturally.

Hellfire Sermons

The songs of The Clientele are currently a delicate blend of the melodic and angular and populate the same out of the light world as the Hellfire Sermons once did, but with things the way they are these days naturally have more chance of a greater audience (and their first recorded outing was strangely on a single split with the truly dreadful The Audience - rickety connections, don't you just love them?) and that is perhaps both a triumph and a tragedy. It is rumoured that Heavenly records are interested in the group, and that's interesting because Heavenly took the plunge many years ago and signed the fledgling Manic Street Preachers, whose first London shows were Esurient Nights of Action where they supported the Hellfire Sermons. And look at the tragedies that resulted from that…

Someone else recently made some different connections when talking about The Clientele. Comparisons were made to 'Wild Grass Pictures', Arco and 'Stumble' by Emily. For those who aren't sure, 'Wild Grass Pictures' was a song by truculent midlands types The Sea Urchins and was a whining debacle. The Sea Urchins had a strange concept of time, and lived in world where nothing existed after 1968. They lived in this strange hinterland for many years before disbanding and forming anew as Delta. This was accompanied by a dramatic lurch forward in their timespace continuum to about 1971, from where they lived out most of what the rest of us called the 1990's. All of which is being slightly unkind, but only slightly.

Emily on the other hand were a dramatic bunch who lived near the Welsh border, made a habit of recording in barns and named their LP after the Rub Al Khali. They would regularly use bongos and clarinets and once recorded a version of 'Raindrops keep Falling on My Head'. 'Stumble' is quite simply one of the greatest singles ever recorded, whilst 'Merry Go Round' is one of the greatest singles never released.

Arco, meanwhile, are a group about which I know little, aside from the fact that they have released two singles on the Dreamy label, and that they seem to take the third Big Star album as their blueprint. Which is no bad thing in my book. There are photos of the group playing a show on their website and they are sitting down, which is a bit of a shame because was it Spacemen 3 who did that in the past? I can't recall. I do find it slightly worrying when people sit down to perform because it makes me think of worthy singer-songwriting types and hippie sing-along stuff, but that's probably just me and my associations. The thing is of course that I do like singer-songwriters, and Arco clearly do too because there's reflections of Bert Jansch in their music and that's obviously a good thing to have reflections of. Some will also say there's the ghostly presence of Nick Drake and whilst that may be true it's a bit too soon after the whole Belle & Sebastian / Nick Drake parallels to heap them on Arco too. And actually Arco make records that ache with the same kind of magical paralysis that suffused songs like 'Fox In The Snow' and 'The State I Am In' although to be honest that's unfair to both sides because Arco never stretch or fill themselves out to the same extent as Belle & Sebastian and that's no criticism. Songs for dewy new day dawning's, cornflower blue skied picnics and late night deep dark secret obsessive confessionals.

Dreamy on the whole are a pretty magical concern, and not just for bringing us the stripped down pure-core Pop of Arco. There's the connections with the always charming Grimsey label, allowing for the UK release of Grimsey favourites Ninian Hawick and The Autumn Leaves (the Bomb Pops collection would be good too but there's always only so much money, so much time…) and of course the perpetually delightful Ninotchka, whose 'The Sea Blinks Back' on the Dreamy compilation Head In the Clouds is a terrific blend of minimal piano and vocal with a great sub-bass undertow that cements the connection between pastoral Pop and urban Jungle. Fantastic stuff, as is the way that Santa Sprees merge early Neutral Milk Hotel with an appreciation of Romero's zombie movie oeuvre. And it's not every day you can say such things… Of course there are low-points: the kitchen sink / toy piano twee of Izumi Misawa just leaves me cold (I could never get into all that Japanese stuff) and I never really could get a grip on Kirk Lake, but hey.

The latest Dreamy release will be the 'Valentine EP' by Tuesday Weld. It's not the '60s movie starlet but rather one Stephen Coates who appropriates the moniker for his songs of strange '30s UK music hall meets 21st century folk-electronica, which is maybe to say that if you could imagine an updated Johnny Dangerously you'd be getting close. If you liked Grenadine, Momus and the lounging Living Room Bossa-Pop of, say The Gentle People then Tuesday Weld is for you. There's even the good taste to have a pretty beautiful song called 'Butterflies Of Love' which references of course the feted Connecticut group whose How to know… LP of last year was such a great collection of spaced out guitar-Pop with hooks strong enough to snare a great white.

Of course the Tuesday Weld song sounds nothing like the band does and that's as it should be. The song sounds more like the Blue Nile circa A Walk Across The Rooftops, which is no crime. There are tinges of the same early Blue Nile on the Flora and Fauna record by Overflower too. Out of Providence, Rhode Island, and on the Brentwood Estates imprint, Overflower tread paths that move around notions of space and pulse and the persistence of memory. Their elliptical space-rock makes all the right kinds of noises, recalls the always excellent Half String (whose Tripped Up Breathing from 1994 is one of the best packaged artefacts ever, but that was common for the Independent Project label) and suggests the right kinds of colours (mauves and deep reds with flashes of electric blue) which is fine. To say more would be probably to miss the whole point of music like this, because it's very ephemeral and transient and that's what's good and that's what words can't quite capture no matter how hard you try.

Which of course doesn't mean you stop trying.

© Alistair Fitchett 2000