The Clientele - Bonfires on the Heath
Kyle Ellison 03/12/2009
The Clientele represent a way of listening to music that is sadly in decline. In the age of the MP3, or more specifically the decline of the traditional album, a record like Bonfires on the Heath only exists because of the very gradual build up of a committed fan base. There is nothing particularly immediate about The Clientele, no individual track reaps instant rewards, and instead, their music slowly bleeds its way into your consciousness. While ultimately this process can be very rewarding, it has never been particularly kind to The Clientele; who are seemingly under constant pressure to continue to exist, in spite this being their fourth full length LP. Yet, 18 years after they initially formed (even if their recordings weren't first released until 2000), here we are again, with a brand new record entitled Bonfires On The Heath.
There is so much to be admired in the band's approach to music, without quickly being able to place your finger on what it is. The Clientele won't sweep you off your feet lyrically like the best folk records do, and their instrumentation isn't filled with particularly sharp hooks; yet music this pleasant must be doing something right. It's exactly this kind of band that can be a nightmare for journalists; trying to explain their charm is like trying to describe why I like drinking tea, a basically flavourless substance, yet warm and comforting. However, nothing is out of place or irksome, The Clientele usually dwell completely within their comfort zone and bask within its rich textures and quiet melancholy. Even on the more upbeat numbers, such as opener, I Wonder Who We Are, which features a ba-ba-ba chorus, there is still the feeling of faint nostalgia.
Bonfires On The Heath couldn't sound more opposite to the rough around the edges, quirky style which seems to dominate modern indie-pop. Its charm is that it's basically indie pop for grown-ups, stripped of its clumsy edges and artificial charm, and replaced with crisp, professional song writing. The bands continuing, although slight, progression sees the introduction of brass sounds that fit so comfortably into place that you'll question whether they have always been there. This new sound creates flashes of excitement, and its Spanish influence colours the album nicely.
Elsewhere, its the same old mixture of reverb laden guitars and frontman Alisdair Maclean's soothing, breathy vocals. This simplicity is welcome and typically produces some of the albums most striking moments. Never Anyone But You, for example, is a clear standout; a few strings adding texture to a simple arrangement that allows the lyrics to reveal their beauty. Maclean sings, “There's a phantom in my breath, there's a phantom in the gaps between my bones,” one of the many throwaway lines that crop up unexpectedly, but resonate with repeated listening.
Like other bands that write music in a particular 'zone' or 'vibe', The Clientele's music is only likely to appeal to a specific kind of person in a specific mood. As much as there is for me to admire about Bonfires on the Heath, I didn't warm to it instantly. In fact, at 21 years of age, I feel too restless and wide-eyed to give this the time it probably deserves. For The Clientele's loyal fans, however, this will no doubt be a welcome addition to their back catalogue. If the rumours that this might be the band's last album prove to be true, then the UK will have sadly lost one of its most reliable exports.