Alasdair MacLean is the perfect name for a dandy, don't you think? The given name akin to Sir Crowley, lord of thy darkest undergrounde, and by obsessive extension to Jimmy Page, paunchy guitar prince par excellence. MacLean is a Scottish surname worthy of Wilde, who would have loved The Clientele if he'd been a 21st-century boy: witty, sophisticated and a little doe-eyed.
Mr. MacLean is the precocious front man of this permanently gloomy group, whose latest album is sure to make indie kids miserable the whole summer through, even if the sun comes out to play. His breathy, resigned and reverbed vocals and elegant guitar pickings are well-established -- so Nick Drake, but made modern by Mark Keen's drum control, especially on the epic "Lamplight." The bass follows with that trademark '70s walk/bounce, more like Galaxie 500 than Damon & Naomi, especially since The Clientele tends to drift in space like Dean Wareham did during his Harvard days. And much like their idols, The Clientele has been something of a hot singles band: With the number of records in its discography in double digits, The Violet Hour (named after a T.S. Eliot poem, no less) is only the 5-year-old band's second album proper.
Behind all cynical exteriors lies sentimentality, they say. The cool retro haze of The Clientele, extending into this present album, is something of a cynicism against musical progress. If history stopped in the 1970s, shouldn't music have done the same? This type of dust-specks-through-the-sunlight profundity, injected into odes to artist Joseph Cornell on 2000's acclaimed Suburban Light, is that much more gilt trimmings and stale air in '03. Charming, yes, but decadent in a way unseasonable for our confusing summer, more Closer than a Pink Moon.