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]

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