The Clientele (Merge Records, 2023)
Odds are you remember the complex feelings of being riveted, exhilarated, and challenged when you first heard albums such as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or OK Computer. As the years pass such experiences may become rarer, as our musical tastes become more refined and our life experiences make us long for something that speaks to the realities of a life lived. Nevertheless, we search.
The Clientele have been around since the early ’90s. Classified as “chamber pop” for those who like labels, their albums to date have been filled with thoughtful lyrics, strings, and stirred comparisons to contemporaries such as Belle and Sebastian. Yet one listen to the dynamic, sprawling opening song “Fables of the Silverlink” on I Am Not There Anymore makes it clear we’re in uncharted territory.
Cutting-edge jazz beats, Eleanor Rigby-esque string arrangements, and poetic recitations all contribute to an enthralling aesthetic. However, rarely are such artistic aspirations coupled with such strongly crafted songs and well-honed, vulnerable lyrics. Thematic threads weave together the story of an exceptional woman and a son who cared deeply for her. In the shifting of time and perspective, amazing passages can be found, including, “Your beautiful life / So hollow and so clear in the light / Here in the face of your child” and “My mother taught me how to die / It’s like playing hide and seek.”
The Clientele stand out by exploring a very difficult but true experience: When you’ve lost someone, there can be a feeling of not being present to others, or the sense of losing part of yourself. The songs offer a glimpse of life that can see the beauty and the loss. As Matthew 7:7 says, “seek and you shall find.”
This article also appears in the December 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 12, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Andy Willsher/Merge Records/Courtesy of the artist