The Clientele make “Monet music.” (What, you never saw Clueless?) Cock your ears right, and the band sounds beautiful. Go in for the close-up and they’re all runny eyeliner and smudged lip-gloss. Except still beautiful, just gloriously indistinct: breathy sighs where the words should be and dust-mote-through-sun-shaft guitar. And big nimbus-sized halos of reverb ringing every sound, making a mockery of studio engineers from Brighton to Vladivostok.
Naturally they’re not gonna sing about a Bush-sponsored guerrilla war or the ooshy-gooshy qualities of real adult sex. In the Clientele’s little England, grad students holding hands carry the weight of the ages. Like their spiritual forebears—Felt, Galaxie 500, Sarah Records—they come from a world where singing out of tune means purity and puppy dog drum-tumbles are rhythmic effervescence.
The Violet Hour, their first album qua album, represents a progression of sorts from their singles. The lyrical lexicon remains locked down (rain, walking, driving, walking through rain, driving through rain), but the new songs are more, uh, considered than the previous sun-ripened four-track doodles.
The more involved the songs get, the more ethereal they end up, and not always to the good. But indie pop has never managed to add much to the canon of “great songs.” At its best indie grabs a mood—usually some variation on the pout—and runs with it, sometimes for years. When a band does post-collegiate longing as good as the Clientele—smeared clichés so potent they sound instantly familiar—I couldn’t give a butterfly’s ass if they recorded the same damn album for a decade.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 30, 2003