The Clientele never sound as though they are falling back on stock musical tropes.
The ever-autumnal sounding Clientele return with, you guessed it, another set of low-key pop. On Music for the Age of Miracles, Alasdair MacLean (vocals, guitar), James Hornsey (bass) and Mark Keen (drums) collaborate with multi-instrumentalist Anthony Harmer, who supplements the band’s sound by adding saz, santur and string and horn arrangements. While they previously relied on a more stripped-down yet still ornate approach to their ‘60s-indebted psych rock and chamber pop, with the addition of Harmer the band is able to fill out their sound in a manner only hinted at before.
Thanks in part to the timeless quality of their music, the Clientele essentially never sound as though they are falling back on stock musical tropes or pandering to the flavor of the week. Music for the Age of Miracles fits perfectly within the group’s catalog, stretching back to their breakthrough collection, Suburban Light, which painted them as the rightful heirs to the Nick Drake/Donovan/Love crown of late-‘60s pop psych with more than a bit of melancholy. “Lunar Days,” with its understated strings, hazy vocals and gently plucked acoustic guitar outlining a series of progressive chord changes, places the band firmly in the soft psych realm of nearly any band Curt Boettcher oversaw during his creative heyday.
“Falling Asleep” employs the requisite Eastern instrumentation—here Harmer’s dulcimer-like santur—to create the melodicism necessary for any self-serious band of ‘60s psych revivalists. MacLean’s vocals here, as elsewhere, are a gentle sigh that only occasionally reaches for something more, rising gently above the rest of the band briefly enough to make his point known but without calling undue attention to what is otherwise little more than another instrumental layer within the band’s sound. Warm, rich and lushly arranged, “Falling Asleep” could just as easily have been released in 1967 as 2017; there is nothing that immediately identifies the track’s chronological origin, perfectly implementing a beguiling timelessness that has long made the group a favorite of those equally enamored with ‘60s psych rock, soft or otherwise.
Harmer’s presence here serves to elevate the group’s sound to something lusher and more compositionally compelling. His little touches with auxiliary instrumentation and string and horn arrangements perfectly augment the existing Clientele formula, taking what would’ve otherwise been serviceable tracks and making them into something more affecting, with greater emotional heft and musical nuance that never feels over-the-top. Indeed, without Harmer’s flourishes, “Everything You See Tonight Is Different from Itself” would be a very different animal, likely wearing out its welcome long before its nearly seven-minute running time ends. Of course, Mary Lattimore’s poignant harp lines and glistening arpeggios don’t hurt.
Arriving on the first day of fall, Music for the Age of Miracles helps usher in the perfect autumnal mood and marks a triumphant return following seven years of little more than radio silence from the beloved chamber pop group. By adding new layers to their distinctive sound, the Clientele proves that it hasn’t missed a beat.