The Clientele : I Am Not There Anymore

The clientele i am not there anymore review

I Am Not There Anymore, The Clientele’s first album in six years, finds the London wallflowers going electric in both sound and spirit. (Or, as frontman/songwriter Alasdair MacLean bluntly puts it: “What happened with this record was we bought a computer.”) The band deploy sharper, assertive sounds and set up some daring architecture, willfully disrupting their once-placid 26-year catalog. The shifts are confounding at first, arriving without precedent in the band’s discography. But especially after repeat listens—the album is a grower—I Am Not There Anymore’s stark moves start to feel cathartic and thoughtfully interwoven, The Clientele drawing from deeper and darker wells than ever before.

The Clientele have long been an Albums Band in a classic pop sense, grounding their records in concise songwriting, familiar forms and neat linear sequences. The new record casts most of this aside. I Am Not There Anymore is a labyrinthine double LP of 19 tracks, many of which become headier as the record moves along. Pieces recur and are cryptically remixed throughout: an iconic stair-step cello motif, swift and sawing, appears, later, at varying half-speeds, or moodily tuned down a few notches; images of long-lost family members crop up repeatedly, seen anew from skewed angles. Other double albums are often marked by brightness and abundance—think of the Beatles’ White Album, brimming with energy and polyphony. But the effect of more tracks from The Clientele becomes, curiously, the inverse: there’s a tautness to this record, a feeling of absence or of being stretched thin. MacLean’s experiences in mourning were a through-line in the writing; his lingering sense of separation shows up not just in songs, but how they’re presented, too: the band’s poppiest tunes, normally appearing in tight lockstep, instead show up more isolated in the tracklist, scattershot or lost like cast-off memories.

Many of the songs that do resemble classic Clientele have more bite than usual, as if to provide ballast or compensate for appearing fewer and farther between. Opener “Fables of the Silverlink” is a study in-miniature of the record’s scale and pointed arrangements, collaging sleek electronic drums with strings and impassioned modal vocals (sung, briefly, in Spanish by Alicia Macanás) in an eight-minute suite. Vivid lead single “Blue Over Blue” is amped up by doubled tight-as-clockwork drumming, Mellotron and blasting horns. (Check out that earworm-y guitar fill in the choruses, too.) “Dying in May” zaps and swirls with a rare sort of electricity, a zippier “Tomorrow Never Knows” that’s easier to move to. And the groove of “Garden Eye Mantra,” which begins in the hazy, dreamy zone of past Clientele records, snaps to a new plateau of tension—MacLean wrests all that he can from the titular mantra-melody, surging ahead on a single pitch for a full minute and elevating the mood into something trance-like and swaggering.

Despite these high points and unusually muscular performances, though, it’s the moodier in-between places—the voids—that end up defining I Am Not There Anymore. MacLean’s warm, breathy, reverb-laden voice, usually a constant confidant on past Clientele records, is absent from whole passages here, faded into vapors. In his stead are a series of short instrumental transitions, as curious and crystalline as Miyazaki film score cues, that appear at interval throughout: “Radial B,” “C,” “E” and so on, written for piano and celesta by the band’s drummer, Mark Keen. (Would-be Radials A, D, F and G are absent, adding mystery to the record’s already-oblique logic.) MacLean also cedes the mic to another spectral presence in a collection of spoken-word collages, narrated with chilly distance by Jessica Griffin. Memories of MacLean’s childhood become poetically hypnotic and musically prickly, a mash-up of cobwebbed BBC library music and Kid A.

It’s an odd balance to have such a significant share of songs feel like tangents or palate cleansers. Yet their small gestures become properly core to the album by its close. I Am Not There Anymore’s final pair of tracks braid the various modes that the band has tinkered with throughout—sturdy songwriting, spare instrumental sketches, and abstract electronica—into a fulfilling whole. In a startling moment of candor on the penultimate “I Dreamed of You, Maria,” MacLean’s voice peaks amid churning waves of horns and guitars: “I woke so early I didn’t know who I was/Blown like rain, just like I was coming across/And I knew that I would die,” tugging the last word desperately above the rising water line. The record then descends into the electronic miasma of “The Village Is Always on Fire,” a collaged coda with narration that sounds savage but feels clarifying. A mess of dreams and death is where The Clientele begin and end I Am Not There Anymore; it’s a long and winding road that the band have hopefully only begun to explore.

Label: Merge

Year: 2023

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