The Clientele I Am Not There Anymore
The opening song, “Fables of the Silverlink” from veteran indie pop greats The Clientele’s new album, I Am Not There Anymore, starts with a burst of chamber strings and heavily processed electronic drums. It’s a pretty stark departure from the breezy, autumnal guitar pop music they are most known for.
“We’d always been interested in music other than guitar music, like for donkey’s years,” singer and guitarist Alasdair MacLean says.
It’s intentional that MacLean wants you to experience those other influences in their new album. The Clientele are expanding, which is refreshing for a group that has been together for 32 years. MacLean, bassist James Hornsey and drummer Mark Keen could easily just continue making the sophisticated and nostalgic pop songs that they have been known for. Their previous record Music for the Age of Miracles was their first after seven years and saw them show they can effortlessly replicate their signature sound of haunting lyrics filled with references to dying memories, pastoral melodies with interlacing guitars, and catchy baroque pop choruses. Still then you heard flashes of what can be heard on this, their seventh studio album.
The Clientele (photo by Andy Willsher)
Between the nearly tribal polyrhythms of “Dying in May,” the nods to 20th century impressionist composers in the four “Radials” pieces, and the British psych folk influences of “Garden Eye Mantra,” MacLean and company are pushing at the edges of their sound and cracking open new ways of doing the familiar. On their lead-off single “Blue Over Blue” a traditional Clientele song is there but new elements keep getting introduced. The buzzing rhythmic samples are nearly jarring, while the outright spooky mellotron interlude sounds like something out of a 70’s BBC educational video. The shifting drum pattern gives the whole track an uneasy tension, feeling like it will never quite settle down, and then it finally does over the line “who am I now, who are you?” It all gives the effect of a band wanting to move past the comfortable places they have found themselves.
There has always been shades of the psychedelia in The Clientele’s music over the years. They were often compared to groups like Love or The Zombies, but those comparisons seemed a little off to me. You can hear traces of Arthur Lee’s subtly layered orchestrations in “Stems of Anise,” but groups like The Incredible String Band come more to mind. In “Dying in May” the soaring strings and constant chimes are more reminiscent of the “hippie folk” of fellow Brits from the late 60’s. You can hear this on “Chalk Flowers” too, with the more traditional chords strumming along as MacLean sings a long dreamy story that mixes modern and medieval imagery.
Speaking of, MacLean’s words have always been impressionistic and nearly obsessed with cataloging liminal space, both in the modern aesthetic usage of that term (dying sunsets, a creaking staircase, distant wildfires, empty alleyways) and in its more psychological use (loved ones dying, a period of youth). This album is no exception. There is a persistent eeriness throughout the runtime, never feeling fantastical nor entirely grounded in reality, but always in a space in-between these things.
The writer and theorist Mark Fisher once wrote on the subject: “The eerie,(…), is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence. The sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or if there is nothing present when there should be something.” I think this sensation is the backbone of this record. Even MacLean says I Am Not There Anymore is all about “the memory of childhood but at the same time the impossibility of truly remembering childhood… or even knowing who or what you are.” The four “Radial” interludes composed by drummer Mark Keen give a sparse breath between songs, mimicking the eeriness and liminal space but also serving to lighten the otherwise dense songwriting.
With all of this being said, the old Clientele can be found all over its 19 tracks. “Claire’s Not Real,” “Lady Grey” and “I Dreamed of You, Maria” would fit nicely next to any of their older albums with the exception of the use of the bouzouki on some solos. It seems like MacLean is trying to redefine what The Clientele is, and I personally think he succeeded, even if I Am Not There Anymore still holds all the trademarks of past records.