Monday, October 17, 2005

The Clientele/Strange Geometry/Rating 8.6

the band's signature sonic trick-- laying a thick coating of reverb Maclean's voice in tribute to the AM radio production of the '60s-- has in a sense been isolating

The name Mark's looking for is Felt. The Clientele sound a lot like Felt. Galaxie 500 would be fair game. For bonus points, you could add Aztec Camera.

I like the new Clientele record. I bought it and I listen to it. It's good company while driving on a sunny October day.

As PFM points out, the band has retreated from the relentless reverb that washed over the vocals in the previous recordings. Alasdair Maclean's vocals are now clearer and more expressive because of that clarity. Also, the rest of the band seems a little more energized. In particular, Mark Keen's drumming adds more to the songs, serving as an accent to the melody rather than merely keeping time. Both Keen and bassist James Hornsey add additional percussion to good effect along with strings arranged by Louis Phillippe.

Track by track, the record starts strong and only falters a little at the end. The opening track "Since K Got Over Me" immediate rewards the listener with its upbeat tempos and thoughtful changes. The early tracks "My Own Face Inside the Trees" and "E.M.P.T.Y." keep the listener's attention with their clarity and relatively upbeat tempos. I'm a sucker for waltz-time and "When I Came Home From the Party" completely satisfies that guilty pleasure for me. The band even rocks out in their manner, cutting into a fuzzy guitar solo towards the end of the track "Impossible" as well as "E.M.P.T.Y.". However, the last quarter of the records doesn't quite carry over the energy of the first half. From "Step Into The Light" to "Six of Spades", the energy level fades. The songs are pretty enough, just not quite as poignant. The next to last track, "Losing Haringey" is a journal entry spoken overtop a repetitive instrumental track; it starts up, rambles along directionless and ends abruptly. While similar artists have pulled this sort of thing off successfully (think "A Space Boy Dream" off of The Boy With The Arab Strap), neither the narrative nor the music is interesting enough to pull the piece off. However, one weak track is easily overcome in this era of digital music playback devices.

What puzzles me (as always) is is PFM's criteria for choosing Best New Music. The review doesn't sell me on the quality of the record (although I had to think about the last time I heard music on AM radio). Yet, this record has managed a higher rating than both Shins' records as well as the latest records from Richard Hawley and the Go-Betweens. While the Clientele's sound captivates and Mclean's song-writing charms, I can think of many other releases with song-writing craft equal to if not exceeding Mclean's. In a fall that is already full of strong releases and promises more to come, Strange Geometry has some tough competition for "Best".

I managed to dig up an old copy of Pitchfork's rating scale on to get some sense of consistency-

10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible

I don't think this record will make my top 10. It's good enough - I'm at pains to figure out which side of 7.5 it would land. I'd even would recommend it to a friend or two whose tastes run to more baroque pop - along with Richard Hawley's latest, the Lucksmiths and the Go-Betweens.