Bonfires on the Heath
published: 11 /
Glorious and melodic folk-tinged pop on fifth album from continously underrated London-based group, the Clientele
The Clientele are the ghost at the table. Omitted from the official guest list, they linger on the margins, offering their eerie, melodic pop to those with the right ears to listen. For over a decade they have plied their enigmatic, intricate and wistful trade; never even coming even close to the levels of recognition they deserve. Their English-folk tinged pop has gone unnoticed amid the tumult by all but a hardy few, but those few have been well rewarded for their perseverance.
Perhaps the Clientele’s moment came and went with the single ‘Since K Got Over Me’, their most concerted attempt at a populist single. The opening track to their 2005 album ‘Strange Geometry’, the track distilled the band’s unique attributes – including vocalist Alasdair MacLean’s downy vocals, delicate strings and reverb drenched sound – and presented them to the world in a brighter, more direct context. Still nobody noticed. The world hurried past leaving the Clientele with the ghosts and the voices in there head. A track on Hollywood blockbuster 'The Lake House' – starring Keanu Reeves – also singularly failed to raise their profile.
Not that they really gave a damn. The following ‘God Save the Clientele’ album offered more of the same, before their latest attempt ‘Bonfires on the Heath’ took them back to their roots. Formed in south London in the late 1990s the group has offered a brand of hushed psych pop over the course of their five albums proper, experimenting with tone and tempo of their material, but never loosing their unique sense of identity. Listeners can spot a Clientele song after just a few bars; an accolade which cannot be laid as the feet of as many bands as one might expect. And here they return to the purest, earliest incarnation of that sound; mixing all the bells, organs, piano, and strings into a blissful, fuzzy smudge of a record.
So 'Bonfires on the Heath' is the sound of a band aware of, but liberated from their past. This is a quietly joyous record. MacLean’s mood seems to have lifted to hover somewhere just above sombre, his classically-influenced, finger-picked guitar style all more in evidence here. Standout track ‘I Know I will See Your Face’ is the most gloriously uplifting accompaniment for a suburban walk you can possibly imagine; each moment begging the listener to simply stop running through life for a few moments and just listen. Horns blare, MacLean laments a lost love and Spanish guitar splashes colour, but still the group never lose their innate poise; gracefully, melodically rocking out.
It is when the Clientele step away from the sounds which they have become know the trouble starts. ‘I Wonder Who We Are’ and ‘Sketch’ are more upbeat than expected, closer to conventional rock tracks. These attempts seem forced, even stilted and do the band no favours. It is easy to understand why, after performing slow, shimmering material on stages around the world for over ten years the temptation must be there to let loose a little, but the results can be undignified at best and embarrassing at worst. This is no rock ‘n’ roll band.
But sticking to there strengths – newly augmented with the addition of violinist Mel Draisey – this is one of the finest bands working in the UK today. Their gossamer exterior hides a splendid sense of melody and pageantry – as well as a deep understanding of British pop, folk and psych music – leaving the Clientele as a glorious gift for those careful enough to listen.
I Wonder Who We Are
Bonfires on the Heath
Never Anyone but You
Jennifer & Julia
Share the Night
I Know I'll See Your Face
Three Month Summers
Walking in the Park