Music is an act of commemoration. It is used to remember, and to compartmentalise, as well as forget and move on. Musicians exert emotion into sound that makes whatever they’re feeling easier and permits them to let go, even just a little bit. To the listener, however, music is assigned new meaning, and consciously or subconsciously, the music prompts connections to your own memories. Happiness, sadness, nostalgia; all valid and real, and expressed through music.
Listening to The Clientele’s new album, I Am Not There Anymore, typifies everything extraordinary about this side of music. To the band, as ascribed in the title, it’s about not feeling present, not “actually inhabiting the moment that your body is in.” What you get from The Clientele is some kind of undulating guided meditation.
Whether it be on the droning yet light ‘Dying in May’, estranged yet present ‘Radial B’ or the languid yet urgent ‘Claire’s Not Real’, The Clientele never defy, but dovetail genre effortlessly. Interludes in the form of “radials” give pause for thought, while the dense and rich set-piece songs wash over the listener like a hot bath.
While I Am Not There Anymore does have a metaphysical quality to it, there is something inherently domestic and familiar about the record. The band do not stray completely away from their jangle-pop roots, with ‘Blue Over Blue’ remaining grounded by a Pavement-style jaggedness despite flights of ethereality attempting to lead the song away, like a child loosely holding a helium balloon, slipping from their grasp.
The uncomfortable ‘My Childhood’ grates, while the delicate ‘Stems of Anise’ uplifts. Whatever The Clientele are feeling when putting together this music, you know it’s real, raw, and with extraordinary depth. The haunting, echoing but inviting quality of Arthur Russell or Elliott Smith is channelled by the band, and compels the listener to pay attention.
By the latter half of the record, it immediately becomes clear that the album is painting a bigger picture, each song an added detail. It’s an album best listened to as if taking in a massive work of art in a prestigious gallery; don’t try and understand all of it, but look for what you like, and you’ll go away feeling nourished and encouraged.
The songs focus on clear and distinct imagery from lyricist and guitarist Alasdair MacLean, which he describes as “something that stays with you as an image becomes almost a symbol of something else, but you describe the image because you can’t describe the something else.” I Am Not There Anymore is entrenched in the metaphorical, and while it nudges you towards an emotional response, it never slaps you in the face with it.
By the final track, ‘The Village Is Always On Fire’, the record is knit together yet is falling apart. The uneasy narration fades out alongside the strangely paced drumming, into silence. Uneven, intriguing and enticing; I Am Not There Anymore is a trip you’ll take again.