The title track of The Clientele’s fifth LP, Bonfires On The Heath opens with a dreamy, ethereal rush of reverby guitar licking, as Alasdair MacLean coos ‘Late October sunlight in the wood/Nothing here quite moves the way it should…’
Of the album’s October release date, MacLean writes, “I love the feeling that everyone is experiencing these Autumnal songs just as Autumn kicks in.” The overwhelming motif of the album is less seasonal however, and more of a quasi-pagan obsession with nature and the outdoors. “It’s haaaaaaaarrrrvessst tiiiiime” MacLean and Mel Draisey harmonise on ‘Harvest Time’; “Bats go shivering by” and “scarecrows watch from the verge of the light”. The various subjects of the album spend their time wandering about the countryside in a bit of a daze, listening to the sounds of the fields and seeing ghosts in the sunset. This might smell a bit like Wordsworthian ponce, but the lyrics on Bonfires… are tempered by a darkness of tone and a lightness of touch. It’s not Patrick Wolf anyway, that’s for sure.
Poetic and breathy (although the breathiness can get a bit pervy at times – one feels quite uncomfortable when MacLean threatens to “touch your face”), The Clientele refer to themselves as “dark pop”, but Bonfires represents a move away from post-Britpop ditties like ‘Since K Got Over Me’ and ‘Bookshop Casanova’, towards an almost jazzy, lo-fi vibe (there’s an off-putting sentence if ever there was one). As bands go however, this one is extremely likable (MacLean’s blog is particularly endearing, consisting almost exclusively of musings on obscure British art and ephemera – not kidding, he quoted Wind In The Willows the other day), they have a refreshing ability to invoke a rolling mountain or a dusty plains whilst remaining quintessentially English (although MacLean is a Scot by birth – perhaps a contributing factor in his obsession with greenery?).
Not a million miles away from American labelmates Lambchop, the gorgeousness of the music is only sometimes overwhelmed by the occasional tendency for the band to slip into self-indulgence, one of the lamentable side-effects of music that tries to experiment a bit and eschew the traditional (Captain Beefheart and his trout mask springs to mind, or more appropriately for The Clientele, George Harrison and that bloody sitar he nicked off Ravi Shankar).
The occasional “ooh-woos” might be appropriately adding to the dreamy, oneiric feel of the album, but for every lyrical “field full of voices” there is the occasional nonsensical, druggy bombast popped in seemingly just to accommodate a dodgy rhyme scheme. Having said that, this album most certainly has more depth and is more ambitious than it appears on first listen, and most certainly a cut above. A technically proficient afternoon wander through some fairly weird territory. Oh, and the cover art is a lady made of fruit, yeah? It’s like, surreal???