Only the Clientele could write a song called "House on Fire" that evokes no urgency, heat or danger. It shuffles along at about the same unworried pace as the rest of the trio's The Violet Hour--technically their full-length debut, since 2000's Suburban Light was a collection of singles--as if a burning home were just another excuse to reflect on love lost and the passage of time.
The Clientele, like Galaxy 500 before them, are unapologetic disciples of late-'60s/early-'70s pop, swathed in the earnest, fluid guitar backings and brushed snares that reviewers like to describe as "gauzy" and "filmy." The Violet Hour continues in this hazy, retro terrain because nothing happens to burst the bubble: no shifts in dynamics, no vastly different tempos, no raising of voices. The songs are soft and sentimental without overt schmaltz (besides perhaps the field-recorded chapel bell that begins "Lamplight")--the vocals are breathy but even-keel, the 16-track analog production heavy on the reverb with a hint of vinyl-style hiss. It's a subtle formula guaranteed to make children of the '70s wax nostalgic. "When You and I Were Young," about dusky childhood car rides and evenings at home, comes closest to pinning down this emotional appeal: The Clientele's grainy restraint (like the Left Banke or the Zombies' Colin Blunstone) suggests the radio soundtrack to our early memories--and that makes us wistful. As if the association needed further driving home, The Violet Hour disc includes two videos filmed on Super-8, for the above-mentioned "House on Fire" and Suburban Light's "Reflections After Jane." Plotless, these cloudy rambles through English post-industrial landscapes are proof that this band is capable of stirring up romantic nostalgia about anything: Aw, remember the heyday of Great Britain's coal trade? Shucks, those were the days.
That said, The Violet Hour turns out to be rewarding both up close, where subtle production touches and show-don't-tell lyrical flourishes are clearer, but more so in the background, where it will drift by, one track indistinguishable from the next, if you allow it to. Describing the title track, front man Alasdair MacLean really captured the magic of The Violet Hour: The band has harnessed "boredom, but boredom that is somehow mysterious and profound."
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