erasing clouds

The Clientele, Strange Geometry

reviewed by dave heaton

As Strange Geometry opens, it's obvious that the "lost in the fog" sound of their last album The Violet Hour's is gone. The sound here is crisp, polished, and clear. That more sharply highlights the Clientele's songs and performance, which are enough to completely transport us to a particular place, time, and feeling.

The album is bookended by references to its title phrase, "strange geometry". The string-laden opening song, and first single, "Since K Got Over Me," includes the line "every night a strange geometry", giving a clue to the album's mood, an inside-your-head feeling of being out of sorts, like everything's just a bit off. In this context it's a post-breakup feeling that things will never be the same. Somehow it feels so right when that moving account of feeling like "there's a hole inside [your] skull" since she left is followed up by a gorgeous rendition of one of the most lovely and sad Clientele songs, "I Can't Seem to Make You Mine." This ballad of un-graspable love, released in different form on a 7" a few years back, is dressed with stately strings and sung passionately by group singer/guitarist/lyric-writer Alasdair MacLean. These songs perfectly set the stage for an album filled with the haunting of people and moments past.

The Clientele sing about places in such vivid detail that you feel like you're there, but they do the same with interior moods, with the way people feel inside. Third song "My Own Face Inside the Trees" is a perfect example, right from the opening line, "All the pines that shiver in the park / kick my fever through the dark / through the railings / and the iron empty bars and tenement lines." That song also has a Borges-esque puzzle to it (catching a glimpse of your own face through light shining on trees), which resonates strongly with the album's overall unsettled mood.

Strange Geometry is haunted by ghosts there's continually references to people you'll never see again ("in this life"), to spirits, to emptiness, to silhouettes. That's fitting, too, for songs that gently echo music of the '60s yet feel so timeless. MacLean's guitar playing feels unearthly yet grounded as well, in the sky yet of the heart.

Starting with their earliest 7" singles, much of the Clientele's appeal has lied with the twin sense of beauty and confusion that their songs conjure up. That's as true of their current, crisper sound as it was of the quickest and haziest of 7"s. Yet the songs themselves are even stronger, filled with so much feeling, and so many ideas, yet sounding so drop-dead gorgeous at the same time. Songs around the middle of Strange Geometry, like "When I Come Home From the Party" and Geometry of Lawns", are classic Clientele songs in one sense, yet even fuller and more intoxicating. As the album nears its end, it gets even more complicated. The Louis Phillippe-arranged strings take over at the start of "Impossible", leading into a pair of love songs (with "Step Into the Light") that are also imbued with the sense of hovering between two worlds, between life and death. Both evoke the fleeting nature of time, as does "Losing Haringey", a spoken narrative over typically lovely Clientele music (with appropriate radio static sounds here and there). The final track, "The Six of Spades", references "the mirage and the echo of the life we live" again so appropriate, both for a meditation on how loss affects our mindstate and for an album that feels like a collection of songs written by ghosts. Or perhaps the songs themselves are the ghosts: too beautiful to last for long, and filled with memories, sad and sweet.


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