C is for The Clientele

Taking a step back again, and C must mean the Clientele, who are, I think it's safe to assume, simply the finest band of musical vagabonds to exist in these unfair isles at this point in history. You doubt my erudite judgement? Catch them playing any time and then come back and join the fan club. Join us and tell your tales of how they create a joyful sound that sidles up beside early Orange Juice and Television and says 'how about an session with the Left Banke and Soupault then?' To which the scratchy guitars and jazz inflected rhythms say 'sure, that sounds like a wheeze to us' and from which sensations to make any sane person swoon are borne.

Of course they leave you wanting more, which is as sure a sign of an obsessive love as any, and naturally there's some wishing that the Verlaine guitar would just s-t-r-e-t-c-h out to the stratosphere on occasion and sod the risk of coming crashing horribly to earth. You don't take the risks you don't escape the banality of the everyday, right? Right. Not that the Clientele are in any way banal of course.

And then there's the surrealisme connection, which might be worrying if it came in any more concrete form, but as it is works well in the realm of lyrical influence. It's been said before that the Clientele songs seem to emerge from the same limited palette, which seems to change as time goes by, shifting from rain-soaked hues to the baked, bleached tones of foreign summers. In his novel Watch Your Mouth Daniel Handler suggests that lives are all about the specifics, a point on which one suspects the Clientele would concur, as their a cinematic eye carefully picks up details like reflections of feathers in puddles, balloons in a white sky and fluttering curtains in open windows.

Four of these exquisite cinema verite moments are gathered on the A Fading Summer EP which is released in the USA on March records. The songs are a combination of previously released material and newly released old-ish recordings: 'An Hour Before the Light' is from the sublime 'All The Dust and Glass' 7" that I fell in love with last summer; 'Saturday' is from the elusive 'Lacewings' 7"; 'Bicycles' purports to be previously unreleased, although some people will recognise it from the Papercuts compilation CD; which leaves 'Driving South' which, like 'Saturday' revolves around events unfolding in Kingston (upon Thames one suspects, as opposed to Jamaica) … 'shopping lists, ephemera'… Sunday mornings… summer in the rain… The usual suspects, and listened to tonight it all reminds me of a condensed Astral Weeks - Alasdair Mclean revelling in the SOUND rather than the meaning of words, adding texture and colour, making new meaning out of the noise.


There's a train of thought that connects the Clientele with Arco, and it's easy to see why, given a listening to the latter's debut LP Coming To Terms (Dreamy records). Arco create a downbeat scrape along the scars of the heart, nodding heavily to the slow seductive darkness in Big Star's Sister Lovers as they do so. This is perhaps the sound of too many hours spent navel gazing, wondering at the sadness, the darkness and the general unfairness of the world according to the rules of love. Julie Burchill would suggest that the underlying self-pity of Arco is an essentially male-disease, and if so then this is a very masculine record. The irony being of course that any testosterone fuelled 'lad' would run a million miles from Arco, scared to death by the fragility of their world view. Either that or they would turn around and deck them to prove themselves more 'manly'.

Arco simply make sensitive aches, bringing to mind the best of Red House Painters in their stripped down phase, conjuring images of dusty bedrooms streaked with pale morning sunlight. Or the Field Mice and Trembling Blue Stars without feeling the need to tell the singer to pull himself together and get over her. Indeed, 'Movie' with it's charming viola has all the longing of the Field Mice circa the So Said Kay EP, whilst 'Into Blue' recalls that record's eponymous title track with it's rail travel motif, and although that's a tenuous connection to be making, it feels right at this point in time.

Recommended for all would-be doomed romantics and those looking for a record full of cracked fragile beauty.

And speaking of fragility and Red House Painters, now would be a fine time to suggest you check out the very fine Looks Like A Russian album by Australia's Sodastream. I'm sure there's a very interesting essay to be written on the influence of Belle & Sebastian on the rise of wistful guitar music, and although it won't be me writing it, for sure there is a connection between the Glaswegians and this record (and not just because there's a thanks to Mick Cooke and assorted Jeepster personnel in the sleeve notes…). The connection is not least in the vocal delivery, which at times could fool the faithful with it's Murdochian inflection, but it's also in the use of intrumentation; viola, dobro and trumpet all make appearances, whilst the space in the recording makes you remember just what it was about those early Belle & Sebastian records that caused your heart to break open with such regularity. Perhaps it's just a lack of finance, but Sodastream nevertheless avoid the mistake of over-production and let the songs breathe like you know they need to. I only hope they learn from this success.

I thought that the Herman Dune 'Shakespeare & North Hoyne' single was a gem that recalled Neutral Milk Hotel and it left me in eager anticipation of their album Turn Off The Light. Sad to say that I somewhat disappointed: the quirkiness of the vocals that appeal in a single outing too easily grate when stretched over the 37 minutes of the album, and although the desert blues of the songs are evocative of Giant Sand, it's a record to encounter using Kevin's Tactical Listening policy: great in small doses.

© Alistair Fitchett 2000

Hyacinth Thistles
And a case of digressions