Geometric shapes

Nov 16, 2005 at 12:00 am

Pulled equally by ’60s ringing psych pop — more California than London — and sleepy ’80s minimalists such as Galaxie 500 and Felt, Londoners the Clientele are a lazy push-me-pull-you of jangle and melody. Their music sways gently and melodies move like an autumnal breeze.

The trio’s core, guitarist Alasdair Maclean and bassist James Hornsey, met as teens in school. “I had met him because he had F-E-L-T written on his pencil case,” Maclean says. “So that was kind of the way forward; it was laid out for us — everything is going to go wrong, from now on.

“This was 1990,” the fair-haired Maclean continues, stretching back in his chair, like an uncle unwinding a story. “There were a lot of other bands who seemed to be coming from a similar point of view and aesthetic that we were into as well. That was like the formative moment when it gets cast in amber, and you can’t really change it, even if you want to. It’s when the world really first turns upside down.”

The band has a show tonight and the soundman is late for sound check. The band hangs around waiting. It’s Halloween day at a venue in North Carolina. It could be any club in the United States.

Hornsey, the most sullen-looking Brit of the trio, sits down, as Maclean recounts another crucial influence on his band, the group Love: “I was age 17. I read a review of Forever Changes and bought it on the strength of that review. The Spanish guitar that I’d known playing classical guitar growing up and the ’60s pop music I loved as well, the two suddenly came together and, again, the world turned upside down.”

Though the two were growing up in the first moments of dream pop, they were interested in making something a bit more delicate than those bands wielding affected walls of guitars. “At that time, everyone else was playing really loud, so we didn’t want to be like everyone else,” Maclean says.

Hornsey adds: “There was a lot of Spacemen 3 being played, but we could never do it too well because we didn’t have the right effects pedals.”

Maclean: “When it got into shoegazing, I often found they would just turn up the effects pedals and not really have a song behind it. Whereas Galaxie 500 really had great songs, great lyrics and minimal effects pedals.”

The Clientele is touring behind their new Merge album, Strange Geometry, which is only their second full-length (the band has a predilection for singles and EPs — they’ve released eight). Geometry features strings for the first time, and the melody, which has always been there, is more discernible this time. A big reason for this was working with producer Brian O’Shaughnessy.

“He was very kind of pop-minded — he doesn’t like improvisation, he doesn’t like dissonance — and those were two things we’ve been doing quite a lot of on previous releases and EPs. He just cut that off at the mains,” Maclean says, before launching into an imitation of the producer: “‘If you’re going to record at my studio, we’re going to work out the arrangements beforehand, precisely. There’s a place for dissonance — as far away from my ears as possible.’”

Maclean had no problem turning the recording reigns over to a producer for the first time, until it came time to mix.

“Then we got a lot more precious about it,” Hornsey says.

Maclean: “There were certain cold silences in the studio that lasted a few hours.”

Hornsey: “We had to step in and mix it how we would mix it — it was just a bit smooth for us — and we would meet in the middle.”

The result is one of the more majestic, carefully wrought pieces of pop you’re likely to hear this year. It’s that point where longing and sad acceptance meets like an Indian summer day on the brink of winter. Really.


Sunday, Nov. 20, the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward, Detroit; 313-833-9700. With Pas/Cal.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]