The Clientele’s first stateside release, Suburban Light, jangles and jingles through 13 songs that sound the way Super 8 footage looks — grainy, otherworldly, beautiful. It is, at the same time, a sound you’ve grown up with and one you’ve never heard before. You might catch shadows of the record player you curled around as a kid, lulled into a trance by serene British harmonics, the dull echo of the melody, the breathiness, the abundant emotion subdued by the scratch and hum of a needle in a groove. Suburban Light doesn’t sound new. It plays more like a tape of a tape of a record about to disintegrate from use. But this worn-out, washed-out sound is entirely original in this day and age and soon becomes the band’s most endearing quality. Comparisons have been flowing like dammed-up water — Belle and Sebastian, Lou Reed, Nick Drake, The Byrds — but while the Clientele has obviously been influenced, it has not emulated.
The Clientele has developed somewhat of a cult following in England, but it has avoided the spotlight like a dolphin avoids nets. However, with this release, the band has finally been thrust into the public eye and forced to explain itself as the latest dose of Anglo melancholy. Suburban Light isn’t actually a new album; it is a collection of singles the band has been throwing to the wind since 1992. Surprisingly, the flow of the album does not reflect its fractured production.
No single track on the album stands out from a musical perspective; they are all balmy, quiet melodies. Alasdair MacLean’s voice is frosted by lovelorn delicacy. His words become snowflakes that disintegrate once they touch the air. None of the instruments attempts to impress; they simply carry the tranquil vocals from one song to the next. The album’s nondescript charm is a double-edged sword; while many listeners will relish in the softness of the guitars or the hypnotic drone of the singing, many still will feel something missing, that something is waiting to burst out through the fuzz, but has been sedated and drained of its energy. To this segment of the populace, the music will be dry and tasteless, repetitive and dull. Just a warning, however — the album is great. It just requires a patient ear to wade through the abstractness and discover the jewel buried within. If you can appreciate them, the songs of Suburban Light haunt you like ghosts long after they’ve stopped playing on your stereo.
The Clientele performs June 16 at detroit contemporary.
E-mail Joshua Gross at [email protected].