Plumbiferous Media

Bonfires on the Heath - The Clientele

Oct 11th 2009
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Bonfires on the Heath - The ClienteleThe Clientele
Bonfires on the Heath
Score: 39

The Clien­tele, a four-mem­ber band from Lon­don, was formed in 1991 but only released its first CD nine years lat­er with the sin­gles com­pi­la­tion Sub­ur­ban Light (its first LP, Vio­let Light came three years lat­er). A pecu­liar blend of indie-pop, The Clien­tele’s music has been not­ed for its sur­re­al tone and melan­choly sound. How­ev­er, their newest album, Bon­fires on the Heath is not espe­cial­ly suc­cess­ful, large­ly due to The Clien­tele’s insis­tence on sev­er­al rather ill-advised musi­cal tendencies.

From an instru­men­tal stand­point, Bon­fires on the Heath is lit­tle more than a pile of used styles and chord pro­gres­sions, although a few tracks do man­age to dis­tin­guish them­selves. “Sketch,” for exam­ple, plays with an inter­est­ing, sol­id back­ground over which instru­ments play cre­ative melodies. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the track is held back by strange dynam­ic lev­els which insist that the sim­ple and repet­i­tive (though sol­id) back­drop take fore­ground sta­tus while the melodies become bare­ly audi­ble side-lines. The oth­er rel­a­tive­ly active track, “I Know I’ll See Your Face,” is also quite notice­able, not only as it is one of few tru­ly upbeat tracks on a gen­er­al­ly slow album, but because of the unique brass parts, drum fills, and gui­tar solos.

How­ev­er, unlike “Sketch,” “I Know I’ll See Your Face,” and a few oth­ers, most of the tracks are slow, gener­ic, repet­i­tive, and gen­er­al­ly unin­ter­est­ing. Chord pro­gres­sions and over­all sound alike feel over­whelm­ing­ly clichéd, and the efforts made to keep the album unique (for exam­ple, “I Won­der Who We Are” unex­pect­ed­ly employs strings and brass) do not succeed.

Though Alas­dair MacLean’s vocals do have an ethe­re­al air to them, it’s not an espe­cial­ly unique air. Strong­ly evoca­tive of 60s psy­che­del­ic rock, and large­ly due to The Clien­tele’s slight­ly ques­tion­able prac­tice of run­ning MacLean’s vocals through a gui­tar amp, this touch to MacLean’s voice lends some­thing to The Clien­tele’s music. How­ev­er, it’s not real­ly some­thing that man­ages to real­ly dis­tin­guish the music. Instead, it pre­vents the music from ever real­ly com­ing into its own, as it instead remains with­in its shape­less com­fort zone. Addi­tion­al­ly, the Clien­tele does­n’t quite man­age to match MacLean’s voice to their odd­ly dreamy music (with the notable excep­tion of “Share the Night”). All togeth­er, the vocals are not a well-com­posed or thought-out sec­tion of Bon­fires on the Heath. They are, how­ev­er, saved from medi­oc­rity by a num­ber of puz­zling deci­sions which make them more con­fus­ing then dull.

Lyri­cal­ly, Bon­fires on the Heath is not espe­cial­ly notable. The Clien­tele relies heav­i­ly upon rep­e­ti­tion of large­ly point­less lines (“Kids are jump­ing / Bon­fires on the heath”), nev­er quite man­ag­ing to do any­thing but give MacLean some­thing to sing. They’ve obvi­ous­ly tried to mim­ic the ele­gant sur­re­al­ism of the bands they’re imi­tat­ing - but lack­ing the cre­ative genius of those groups, the lyrics come off as non­sen­si­cal mush.

Bon­fires on the Heath has its strong moments and its weak moments. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the weak sig­nif­i­cant­ly out­weigh the strong. Prob­lems on the album range from inef­fec­tive vocals to over-rep­e­ti­tion, and the only tru­ly suc­cess­ful tracks are scat­tered rarely through the album. So, while The Clien­tele does make attempts to sway the lis­ten­ers in its favor, it ulti­mate­ly does not quite succeed.

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