The Clientele’s new mini-LP Minotaur couldn’t have come at a better time. September, with its warm light, shortening days, encroaching chill, and attendant melancholy, is prime Clientele season. I’ve been loving you for so long / I’m just a shell of myself, sings Alasdair MacLean ruefully in the album’s closer “Nothing Here Is What It Seems” — how much more autumnal could a lyricist get?
Though it’s easy to accuse The Clientele of always sounding the same, perhaps a more accurate assessment of the band’s trajectory would maintain that it’s developed a consistent atmosphere. A Clientele record will always envelop a listener in a so-pretty-it’s-sad mood, heightened by MacLean’s cinematic lyrics that plant a listener in an incredibly particular mental landscape, a vision of the world as an English garden seen through a rain-streaked window.
In general, Minotaur continues in the bright, dreamy ’60s-pop vein of the band’s last LP, Bonfires on the Heath rather than the more Galaxie 500-esque washes characteristic of its first records. The choppy guitar strumming, chimes and ah-ah backing vocals on “Paul Verlaine” hearken back precisely to the months between Rubber Soul and Revolver. The lovely interplay between a mandolin and violin on “Strange Town” also sounds like the kind of move a West Coast record producer might have made that same year. Though a newcomer to The Clientele should not start here, it’s strong throughout, with the exception of the aberrant (if mild) guitar freakout in “Jerry” and a creepy piano solo, “No. 33,” which, if unobjectionable, seems unnecessary.
Even the song that deviates most from the band’s more typical sound limns its animating spirit. “The Green Man,” a spoken word track, is accompanied by ominous squeaks and atonal bells evocative of a train station. The piece describes an encounter with a ghost, that leaves the narrator breathing in “the dust . . . of forgotten piano lessons, church halls, school gatherings.” An analogous absorption in the past’s minutiae — both sonically and lyrically - oddly makes The Clientele inimitable.