I haven’t been very… interested in anything this year. Well, except food. I can count the pieces of media I’ve really enjoyed on a couple of hands. I didn’t read a book for six months, and made it through films and comedy shows on the pretext of finding something to write. The music I heard was the few thousand tracks on my phone, but where usually I would find myself entranced by something every couple of weeks, I just left shuffle to do its business without bothering me.
That’s why The Clientele were quite special. I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding musical terminology, over the years, trying not to know the musical reasons that my emotions are being worked on. But here it seems a bit obvious. It’s melancholy and drowsy. It feels like the late afternoon, and feels like I feel in the late afternoon–melancholy and drowsy. Alisdair Maclean’s vocals are breathy, but he also has a breathless quality that strings his words together. As I’ve learned, while trying to sing Clientele tracks in the shower, Maclean’s phrasing isn’t easy to imitate. the words themselves sound good; they’ve been well chosen and mix a lot of original phrase-turns with familiar sentiments at key, hooky junctures. It’s not presented histrionically. It’s more defeated, but with a charm that most depressive-fuck music lacks. The reverb and the tone stops tracks feeling as dismal as, say, Beck’s Sea Change. I get defensive when music tells me it wants me to like it.
A few nights ago, I was at the launch of Mary, where I told a horrified creative writing student that I only like poems that rhyme. I said frankly, that I’m a philistine, but it’s an unapologetic viewpoint. I’d prefer that poetry was all presented as music. There’s much more opportunity with words when you can control the environment around them – the way they’re sung, the voice singing, the instruments behind them. It’s possible to hear something more realised.
The hook of Saturday is much more subdued than in other tracks. It was a Saturday Autumn, sunset, on public transport through Royal Park and past the Queen Victoria Market. Being a Saturday, I thought to look for songs of the title, hoping there would be something to pump me into an illusion of energy submission. I got this instead. I’d heard it before and paid little heed. But a couple of moments “I touched your face and saw the night again”, almost repeats itself as “I saw your face and I thought you were a dream” and both come with a lazy anticipation between words. If the song were a codex, those lines are the keys. After I understood the structure (though, at the time, it wasn’t a thought of “I understand this structure”) I’d hit the first stage. You start to notice the words that repeat, the echoed phrases.
The Clientele’s music is smart without cloying you in cleverness. All of their elements fit together, and it’s a flattering fit.
The taxi lights were in your eyes
So warm against St. Mary’s spires
The carnival was over in the rain
And arm in arm through Vincent Street
The evening hanging like a dream
I touched your face and saw the night again
And in your arms I watched the stars
Ascend and sweep a loneliness away for a while
Your fingers white and locked in mine
I kiss your face, I kiss your eyes until
Tthey turn to me and softly smile
And empty hearted I walked on
The river flowing to the song
Of the evening in the darkness and the rain
The Christmas lights were far down stream
The wind so lonely and unreal
I saw your face and I thought you were a dream
But when I saw your eyes what could I do?
What could I say, my love?
Your kisses they will hide away the stars
It’s Saturday, the evening’s come
The football crowds have all gone home
But still behind this window I look on
December’s leaves so slowly fall
To cars that break the evening’s pall
And I will wait for you to come tonight