Sound & Vision with The Clientele

The Clientele are nothing if not adventurous. Fully embracing risks over a career now exceeding thirty years the group are somewhat of a cult phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. As if to prove this point their latest release is 19 tracks long, galloping from warped orchestral interludes to brash pop, to trippy electronics, sometimes within the same song. And yet they still manage to sound like cherished indie stalwarts at their core. To accompany the gift of their most recent release, Alasdair MacLean shares his sound and vision picks. 

Three favourite albums:

Love – Forever Changes

I suppose I have to put this one in as, in common with many other people, this has been a lifelong obsession for me. I first heard it as a teenager but it seems like a different record every time I listen. Arthur Lee’s gorgeous crystalline voice, the arrangements, the lyrics and melodies. Even the bass playing is superb. There’s something baffling about it, which is what saves it, and makes it immortal. It sounds both ridiculous and deeply profound. Some people would say – and I would agree – that it seems somehow to hold almost all human potential in it. I’ve read people comparing it to the tradition of apocalyptic New England religious prophecy, the French writer Lautreamont, orchestral Boleros, and who knows what else, but no one can pin it down or explain it. And it almost feels like it all only came together by chance – on a different day, it wouldn’t have happened.  

Palestine, Coulter & Mathoul – maximin

I would never have known to buy this, but when we played at the Other Music record shop in NYC back around 2001, they gave us some CDs and this was one of them. It remixes and re-edits Charlemagne Palestine songs. He makes these massive, transcendental drones on church organs. They’re huge, completely overwhelming, they remind me of an enormous bank of light glinting off the sea. This takes some of them and ‘revisits’ them as smaller, shorter things, with added electronic sounds. It’s the sound of dreams, labyrinths. I used to listen to it on long haul flights and it would send me into a deep trance. I don’t know why, but something about it just feels like home to me. I used to sing whispery songs over the sound of the vacuum cleaner when I was three, maybe it’s because of that.

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children

I love everything they’ve done but this was the record that I heard first, in the late 90s – a drummer I knew recommended it and I bought it despite not knowing who they were and having no real knowledge of electronic music, I guess I liked the name. Again, hearing this felt like returning home – I had a deep physical and emotional reaction to it. It fascinated and overawed me. So much has been written about this record, I’m not sure I can add anything more, but they’ve always seemed to me like magicians, the Lennon and McCartney of our time.

Favourite film:

Le Chambre Verte – Francois Truffaut

I don’t know if this is necessarily a good film, compared to people like Tarkovsky or Bresson, but I love it. It tells the story of a man whose wife died and who creates a shrine for her, in the ‘green room’ of the title. Over time, he begins to commemorate other dead people, until he has a whole mausoleum of candles and photos, which he is custodian of. He lives entirely to remember and converse with an ever-growing group of dead people, he sees himself as the only one who cares enough to tend to them and save them from being forgotten. He becomes very angry when his friends recover from bereavements and grief and regards them as traitors. He befriends a young girl and she becomes his assistant. The last scene, accompanied by a beautiful Bach-like fugue, shows him collapsing from a heart attack and his friend lighting a final candle for him.

Favourite Book:

The Owl Service – Alan Garner

I think out of everything I’ve read, only this book approaches perfection. The copy I have has a pull quote from the TLS describing it as possessing a ‘terror-haunted beauty’, which is the best description of it I know. It’s short and diamond-hard in language, and rooted totally convincingly in both the 20th century and the deep time of the Welsh Myths in the Mabinogion, one of whose stories it replays in the modern world. As well as being beautiful, It’s uncanny beyond any sense of comfort, it’s brutally scary, and it’s written for kids.

A song that means a lot to you

Neil Young – Helpless

I feel like there’s a sense of exhaustion to this song, of reaching the end of your rope and somehow finding a state of grace there. Of laying down your arms and just accepting there are some mysteries which will defeat you. It’s about memories of childhood, and home and I think implicitly, how you’ll never find the person you were again. But the memories persist. I love that he sings ‘we are helpless’ – not ‘I am’ he has the generosity to attribute this final state of grace to everyone. 

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