The Clientele – Suburban light (Merge, reissued)

One of my favourite albums of last year was The house at sea by Amor de Dias on Merge Records, an Anglo-Spanish duo made up of Alasdair MacLean and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez. Their brand of chamber folk might have been too twee for some people but it resonated in a major way with my inner Go Between. There was a nostalgia and a writerly quality to it that Grant McLennan would have been proud of.

MacLean used to front English group The Clientele, a band who shared some of the atmospheres of Amor de Dias, although leaning more towards electric guitars than acoustic or Spanish for its core sound. Now Merge have reissued that band’s debut album Suburban light (a collection of singles originally released in 2000), remastered and including previously unreleased tracks and alternate versions. Where it failed to find much of an audience at that time, it should find a much more receptive public these days. It’s warm and fuzzy, blissful dream pop with a strain of sadcore running through it. It’s interesting to read MacLean’s comments about the band’s aims back then.

“We were just waiting to get in a proper studio and have strings, brass, choirs — Phil Spector-crossed-with-Martin Hannett production,” MacLean remembers. “At the time, every engineer wanted to make every band sound like Radiohead, which just broke everyone’s heart. We couldn’t get a warm sound anywhere we went in those days.”

They certainly achieved that warmth. You’ll recognise The Byrds in the guitar treatments, but also the downbeat moods of a band like Galaxie 500 and the late-night psych reveries of The Velvet Underground.

‘Rain’ has that Byrdsian sunburst guitar shimmer, but with MacLean’s hushed vocal it takes on a more muted, autumnal hue, perfectly in keeping with the longing of the subject matter. ‘We could walk together’ takes a soaring bassline to the chiming guitars, managing to make downbeat sound pretty thrilling.

‘Reflections after Jane’ is like the lost companion to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday morning’, a sparse, glittering, blissed-out love poem, as close to jazz as pop music. ‘An hour before the light’ takes this sound on a notch – a pitter-patter backbeat over another glorious guitar arpeggio gorgeously conveys the rush of being “lead astray by love”.

There are many more low-key gems in here ('Bicycles' is another stunner), most containing guitars that ring out like church bells and a hushed vocal which will burrow far into your inner ear. All round, it's utterly gorgeous pop music you could drift away on.


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