REVIEW: The Clientele: The Violet Hour
The Clientele: The Violet Hour [Merge/Pointy, 2003] (mp3)
Three words? hazy shade'o winter
Sometimes I go walking in the early morning.
It's brought on by dreams, usually, or heartache. A need seizes me, the desire to enter another space - to at once be rooted (feet on pavement, pressing into snow) and adrift (empty streets, cold wind on eartips). I feel like a ghost amongst the still, grey buildings; I watch candy wrappers blown over sidewalks, swing-sets hanging still. Big rounds of smoke puff out of towers. My coughs echo.
And then, sooner or later, the sun breaks over the horizon. If I haven't already returned to my door, my home, my bed, I watch as bands of light divide the smoke, crack open the shadowy spaces between skyscrapers. The gold melts the grey, dissolves those frozen dawn colours into grassgreens and skyblues. Things shimmer; they wake.
Listening to the new album by The Clientele, I can't help but imagine that it's at just these moments that the band records. During the violet hours. The tape begins to record, hissing oh-so-softly; they brush off their dusty amps; they pick up their guitars. Then out comes this swirling, glimmering sound. Listening, it's impossible to pretend that the Clientele's three members never walked through London's fog, or watched the day break. That feeling - the mist, the ache, the brisk, bright air - permeates The Violet Hour.
There are all the ingredients here for a congested, fey Eighties nostalgia trip: The Smiths' glittering, interweaving guitar-notes; Felt's fragile, ghostly lyrics; a drop of shoe-gaze and the blur of a lofi studio. And yet, The Clientele have accomplished something fresh and vital, somehow repeating those old sounds in a way that feels not just original, but necessary. These are sounds we've been thinking, (yes, today, in the year 2003,) but haven't been able to hear - the shivering joy of the title track, the delicate promise of "Policeman Getting Lost," the plaint of "When You and I Were Young" (and its turn to domestic warmth).
Admittedly, it always takes me a minute to warm to The Violet Hour: it's too withdrawn at first, too flat. Soon, however, I'm relishing its dazed, melancholic pace. The songs do dissolve into one-another - pattering drums, splendid (splendid) guitars, multitracked whisper-singing - but the result is a thick, flowing album that never stutters. The piano instrumental "Prelude" breaks open some long silences, cut with piano notes, but this too fades into the landscape of melancholy, hush, and desire. Here and there, splashes of other instruments - bells, reverse-played guitar, organ - light up the music, and pedals aplenty send up new fireworks (blazing towards the end of "The House Always Winds," thick with reverb on "Voices in the Mall"). Most of all, though, it's the simple beauty of voice, acoustic and electric guitars. Lyrics that paint in watercolour: "the arcades that have blossomed just to fade into the shadows of the night"... "I took one step back/ And I returned to evening"... "But if you get too tired / you can lay your head across my pillow / the darkness coming quickly / at this time of the year / but you can lay your hands on me / for a while."
When I go walking in those early mornings, I listen to music. Only certain, special music. Astral Weeks. Rock Action. Kid A. The Sea and Bells. Pink Moon. I will take The Violet Hour with me.