Every year, the moment September hits I start to work on my definitive Autumn playlist.
First on the sheet is always Ian McCulloch’s genius Scott Walker-esque version of September Song. Alas still only available on vinyl.
And then I think which Clientele track should I have, and three hours later I have given up on the playlist.
That’s because there’s really no need for an Autumn playlist when you have the back catalogue of The Clientele. Theirs is beautiful music that perfectly complements the gentle shift of Summer to Autumn. The gently plucked guitars – with a nod to the Byrds, Felt, WCPAEB and others – subtly shifting melodies, whispered vocals and swooping harmonies could conjure up a London October evening even on a roasting summer day in the Nevada desert. It is music so closely tied to a time and place (October London, with the odd diversion to Suburbia and the Hampshire countryside) and wonderful for it. And that’s before we get on to Alasdair MacLean’s lyrics, poetic tales of falling leaves, late night walks in the rain and windswept fields.
And the reason why I could listen to them forever is even though they have that wonderful musical template, they are brilliant at tweaking it. So the Violet Hour album includes The House Always Wins which starts mellow before descending into an incendiary guitar fest. Or Bookshop Casanova from God Save the Clientele where they add a disco beat or two. Or even their last release, the mini album Minotaur, where they experimented with both sunshine pop and Satie-esque instrumental sketches.
Push comes to shove though Bonfire On The Heath is my favourite autumn album ever. Yet the band’s new album Music For The Age Of Miracles has just topped it.
It has been a long time coming , and it shows, Every song is, to use current common parlance – crafted. This is artisan pop.
The Age Of Miracles washes over you the first time you hear it, but then it subtly finds a place in your life and doesn’t let go.
And it also boasts a wonderful back story too in how lead singer and songwriter Alasdair MacLean hooked up with Anthony Harmer, his writing partner from long ago, only to discover that his former collaborator had become expert on the Santoor, an Iranian version of the dulcimer.
It is the Santoor that provides some of the album’s biggest surprises. On Falling Asleep, for example, it frames the song giving it an almost Krautrock style structure that enables the rest of the band to take the melody in all manner of directions.
Then there’s Everyone You Meet perhaps their most archetypal song, which pairs a gently twisting melody jollied along by keyboards, strings and hint of brass.
Cut from the same cloth is the album’s title track closer, which slowly builds to breathtaking beautiful finale. It is beguilingly beautiful.
The opener, The Neighbour, is another absolute gem, as is the English folk influenced The Circus, and the psychedelic Constellation Echo Lanes. And interspersing the tracks is the glorious Clientele clutter, like the piano instrumentals, and in The Museum of Fog a spoken word instrumental where London and Hampshire collide in a dream that’s a sequel to Losing Haringey.
There have been many great albums this year and I am sure more will follow, but in Music For The Age Of Miracles The Clientele for me have delivered its definitive musical moment. It really is that addictive.