The boughs of the elms

Alasdair MacLean

The Clientele’s Music for the Age of Miracles is definitely one of my top three or four favorite records this year. I guess it’s not so unbelievable that a band that had a run of classic albums emerged after a long hiatus, suddenly, to drop another great album. Music for the Age of Miracles belongs with Suburban Light, the Violet Hour, and Strange Geometry as one of the band’s masterpieces. This album is packed with incredible lyrics and melodies from start to finish. Alasdair MacLean works magic with a short deck of lyrical fixations: stars, night, wet streets, autumn, headlights, lamps, trees (cypresses, elms) & leaves, and longing; he shuffles these, combines them with quiet and quotidian observations, and produces song after gorgeous song.

After listening to this band for something like 16 years, I finally got to see them live a couple weeks ago, in Seattle. This band is amazing live–it was just the three of them, MacLean, James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums). The sound they produced was staggering and the live versions of the new songs they played were almost better than the studio versions. MacLean, who seemed to fingerpick basically all the songs, is definitely underrated as a guitarist. They played a good deal of the new album and mixed in a lot of stuff from the older albums as well.

The Age of Miracles is one of the best tracks on the new album, a freakishly beautiful song with lyrics like this: “Always, tonight, I’m coming home/The Pleiades and the Lyre/Over the cranes, the harbor lanes/The world will end in fire.” There’s something there, and elsewhere–something elegiac and haunted in this album that I think captures a lot of what has felt very prominent this year: a sense that things are emptying out, things are disappearing, things are ending.

[BUY Music for the Age of Miracles]


Fan is Meric Long from the Dodos. He made these songs using two synths left behind after his father’s passing. Both Fire (above) and Disappear, the b-side, are fantastic. Definitely Dodos-esque in some ways (a good thing), they have that kind of roused-fury sound that appears in many of the full band’s songs, a kind of shift from calm lullaby to something that sounds more aggressive and energetic, coiled. Disappear, while sounding of a piece with Fire, stretches in a different direction for Long, the bottom drops out halfway through the song and releases into a cold wave of synth. It’s a great turn.

[BUY Fire b/w Disappear]

The patron saint of skiing

photo of leaves in Tacoma

Photay’s Onism is one of my favorite albums of the year. It is endlessly playable. News sounds arranged into new types of songs. Static crackle bent into sheets of fine music. Synthesized animal vocalizations carefully calibrated to harmonize with buzzing radiators. Cosmic background radiation sampled, scrubbed, and used as a foundation for an unfurling and swaggering thing like Off-Piste. I don’t know where these sounds come from, but they’re beautiful and pleasurable. Each song seems like it runs miles deep, there are sounds beneath sounds beneath sounds. Onism feels new, like it’s pushing into a different place.

[BUY Onism]