Lost love is an ever-recurring theme amongst the sensitive songwriters of the world, each broken heart launching an album’s worth of pain and longing. If every broken heart led to the recording of an album, there would be far more records than people in the world, and as it is, the albums seem to be catching up. As technology advances, lone song downloads begin to catch up to full-lengths and politics create increasing unrest, the ode to heartbreak still lives on. Love conquers all, even when the lovers are ultimately defeated. And so our record collections grow, at the risk of hearing the same tune over and over again. But given a slight twist, heartbreak becomes something more than trite and predictable. Just the right choice of words, paired with the perfect melody, and this agony becomes a work of art.
For The Clientele, love lost is a grand shooting-off point, an alluring muse for something poetic and graceful. Frontman Alasdair MacLean (cool rock-guy name, by the way) puts his aching into such lovely verse, his emotions, which are expressed in an ever-so cool and collected manner, are put forth artfully and eloquently. It’s as if they transcend crude human instinct, portraying loss in concrete imagery rather than mere emoting.
Of course, The Clientele draw from wider inspiration than boy-meets-girl relationship woes, but MacLean’s lyrics are so romantic and poetic that every song is like a love song, even when it’s not. Strange Geometry, the band’s second full-length album, is like a 12-song stream-of-consciousness walk on a rainy evening, illuminated only by the dim streetlamps. Strange Geometry is very much a “night” record, as much as it is a break-up record. This isn’t the album you listen to, drunk and miserable; this is what you put on during the comedown—that strange, transitional melancholy period that comes between depression and moving on. Nowhere is that period more concretely expressed than on opener “Since K Got Over Me”:
All my senses sharp
My hands are fists
I’m pretty tired of making lists
It’s just this emptiness
I can’t chase it away
It’s a beautiful sort of sadness, wrapped up in a jangly ’60s British pop tune. But the music seems to fit the mood more aptly on “I Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” Bittersweet orchestration casts shadows across this pastoral ballad, one of the highest points on the record. MacLean’s imagery takes over again, here, as he sings, “I try so hard, darling, but the crowds pulled you away/through the ribbons and the rain/and the ivy coiled around my hands.”
The mysterious character “K” shows up again in the song of the same name, which sounds more Simon & Garfunkel than Velvet Underground, but “My Own Face Inside the Trees” has more of a psychedelic pop sound, organ driving the chorus’ catchy, instrumental hook. “Step Into the Light” combines a gorgeous, dreamy summer night melodies with lyrics to match (“A starry summer evening came/our murmured love has closed“).
There is love and there is loss on Strange Geometry, but the album is something more oblique than that. It’s an album of memories and experiences, and of photographs in one’s mind. The Clientele express through their shimmering, haunting melodies the ideas and feelings so few of us are able to articulate. Strange Geometry is thematically tight, but open-ended, like a great work of fiction. And like a great work of fiction, it’s bound to be revisited and quoted, time and time again.
Pernice Brothers – Overcome by Happiness
Felt – Forever Breathes The Lonely Word
Love – Forever Changes
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.