The Clientele play seemingly effortless melodies that could come from a vintage music box, a gently familiar chime-and-churn in which vocalist Alasdair Maclean and his mates sound like they are incanting a pleasant spell over the listener — think of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping.”
“Ba, ba-da, ba-ba-da-da, ba-ba-ba-da-da, I wonder, who we are, tonight,” Maclean croons, with just one earnest droplet of cinnamon in the mix, the acoustic guitars behind him churning a froth while distant horns — think of murmuring extras in a cinematic crowd scenes — dapple the diaphanous groove.
I chose mid-period Beatles as my touchstone; others cite Galaxy 500, or the Zombies, or another purveyor of pop sliced so deftly that its flavor never grows stale. They all make songs meant to be satisfying musical snacks instead of a meal, the better to maximize nuanced variety and minimize torpor.
In this context, it is probably no coincidence that The Clientele are an English quartet, based in London, pronouncing themselves in their bio to be unashamed of poetry and averse to the less refined emotion of the blues. If there is a flaw here, it is that weightlessness. They’d be the last people to make a silly mess of things, and if it ever happened, they’d quickly cover it up with a faux-wistfully erudite spin on the chain of events.
Their strength is the consistently high quality of those snacks. The Clientele began with a slew of scattered singles, so that their first proper album didn’t feel like a debut. They’ve now released four full-length collections in every odd year since 2003, nudging their artistry forward a little more each time. Picking a favorite could have as much to do with when you happened upon them, or how events in your own life affected your receptivity, as any objective analysis of the caliber of the record. They’ve all been justifiably well-received, in proportion to their modest but durable charms.
Here is the group at Maxwell’s in New York last month, playing “Since K Got Over Me.”
Here is “I Wonder Who We Are” (the “ba-ba” song cited earlier).
Here is the group’s Myspace page.
The folks at the Cedar Cultural Center (who are collaborating with First Avenue on the gig) provides a nice bonus with Field Music, a strong opening act that is simpatico but not redundant. Here is that English trio playing an in-store gig in London last month.
The Clientele at First Avenue, tonight at 8:30 p.m., tickets are a bargain at $13.