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October 12, 2009

The Clientele – Bonfires on the Heath (Merge, 2009)

The latest full-length from The Clientele is a stroll down familiar ways, perhaps coloured a bit differently. It’s been said elsewhere a few times that this is an autumnal record, something the songs themselves convey musically, lyrically, and visually. As a band that have often alluded to painting, The Clientele have a way of creating image-records, which carry and convey certain moods upon every listen. And if this is to be their last record, as the band have alluded to, perhaps the autumn feel is perfect for it.

Frontman Alasdair MacLean said in a recent interview: “…We wanted to capture a deadening, spectral ambiance…The idea for this record was to see what the four of us can do rather than something like [2007’s] God Save the Clientele, which had about 25 people on it.” In the same interview, MacLean commented on this new album’s character by saying: “It’s more full of ghosts and doubts and signs and wonders than any other Clientele record. It’s very spooky and tremendously sad at times. It’s about watching yourself disappear.” That eerie mood is perhaps the biggest difference between Bonfires on the Heath and their two most recent records, the aforementioned LP and last year’s That Night A Forest Grew EP (which contained a song that found its way onto Bonfires as well). It retains the same lushness, but does away with some of the brightness found on those other records. For any departures to be noted, however, the record remains one by The Clientele, and that will mean something to fans of the group. If you like the others, you’ll no doubt like this one as well. There are some beautiful pieces here, some bouncy and some sleepy, all full of the recognisable guitar arpeggios and light, even drumming that have always driven the band. There are key, string, and horn features that vary from song to song, but it’s MacLean’s guitar and voice that, as always, lead the songs along, with everything else serving as accentuation.

The end result here is another fine record for The Clientele catalogue. Take any one of their records on its own, and you’ve got a great release – as is the case here – but take their discography as an entirety, and you have an impressive musical totality that has grown gradually into one of the most respectable of any contemporary group. If this is indeed their last record, and it’s soon going to be time to hang them up in the gallery, it’s a good final statement.

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