I came to The Clientele way after their inception, but like any classic act that has formed their own distinct sound and learnt to run with it, sooner or later they return in lapping waves and pull out another devotee or two with each retreating tide. As of September 4th, Alone & Unreal: The Best of The Clientele will be available through Pointy Records, alongside reissues of the bands five previous albums, allowing a whole new audience to be caught up in the backwash.
With their debut dropping just after the millennium, The Clientele developed a closer cult following with every record – much like label mates and collaborators Lampchop – as their knack for reeling off effortless, shimmering slices of ’60s nostalgia and unusual use of surrealistic language charmed audiences in the UK and more notably, in the US. For some detached and disenchanted listeners their music echoed like a rallying call, as each lyric dreamt up images of glades, rivers, empty streets and sidewalks. And a lot of rain. From what I can gather, Alasdair MacLean spent the whole of the ’00s completely drenched.
Cherry picking from their back catalogue, Alone & Unreal saunters through The Clientele’s history and places each album’s finest moments (excluding 2010’s mini-LP, Minotaur) under close inspection. ‘Reflections After Jane’ opens the compilation; the folk-infused, soft-psychedelia that comes trickling through is instantly recognisable as ’60s, so much so you almost find yourself expecting the gentle caress of congas or Tablas to begin, like a Tim Buckley lullaby, but instead MacLean’s smooth tones draw in. After that the only continuing comparison between the two artists may be in the lyrics of both Alasdair and Larry Becket (Tim Buckley’s co-songwriter and poet).
Like leaves caught in a gale, MacLean’s words drift and turn with the music, to create this lonely landscape, this isolated yet enveloping separate sense of space so often referred to by critics when describing their music. They fuel the flawing, forlorn beauty of ‘Since K Got Over Me’ – “There’s a hole, inside my skull, with warm air blowing in” – you could reflect and write something of this length on lines like that alone.
The masterfully composed ‘Never Anyone But You’ builds to a chorus that just loops around the simple poignancy of “I can only see you”, as if the figure narrating has completely lost their train of thought as they gaze into the face of another. The compilation triumphantly wraps up with 2014’s single ‘On A Summer Trail’, which goes to prove The Clientele have still got plenty more pensive, pop-gems tucked away.
Really what Alone & Unreal does, is it acts as a snapshot – much like the fading, underexposed photograph in ‘Losing Haringey’ – of a band that can evoke seemingly conflicting states of emotion: of wonder and despair, curiosity and impassiveness, eeriness and warmth at a moments notice.
Alone & Unreal: The Best Of The Clientele is out now via Pointy Records.