The Clientele: The Violet Hour

The Clientele
The Violet Hour

"Three years ago in Paris I got out of a metro train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another... and I tried all day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion."

That's the inspiration for "In a Station of the Metro" as recounted by Ezra Pound, who landed on the elusive lines for his Imagist haiku that evening, while walking home along the rue Raynouard. (The poem, in its entirety, reads "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.") But the story behind it could also describe a Clientele song. The London threesome's ghostly, rain-soaked pop, at once delicate and indelible, draws from the same spring: stricken wonder and perambulatory epiphanies, memories like apparitions, weather and trees. Frontman Alasdair MacLean's guitar trembles with reverb, hitting not notes but the echoes of notes--the songs shimmer like a remembered mirage, while his lyrics evoke the Surrealists' knack for rendering the everyday strange and marvelous.

"It's about adventure and romance," MacLean once said of Surrealist literature, "about walking around Paris at night." In the rain, no doubt.

Unreal is still MacLean's favorite word on The Violet Hour, which marks the band's first LP conceived as an album proper--though it often sounds interchangeable with their improbably seamless singles collection, 2001's Suburban Light. De Quincey-like psychogeography tours stir elegies for lost time and love (and Love, especially in the acoustic frisson of "Missing"); August perpetually dissolves into September. "So that summer came and went and I became cold," MacLean croons on the title track in his hushed half-falsetto, and much of the album suggests it's the fleeing of people, not just seasons, that leaves such a bracing chill in the air. (The narrator in "Everybody's Gone" addresses a You, but she might well be one of Everybody.) For a band defined by rapt fixations and backward glances, it's hard to begrudge The Violet Hour for being a vivid memory of the Clientele's previous work.

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