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Album Review: Amor de Dias – Street of the Love of Days [Merge]

There’s been plenty of talk concerning the state of The Clientele these last couple years, primarily about whether the band would continue to exist beyond 2010’s EP “Minotaur”. The main issue on frontman Alasdair MacLean’s part was apparently a lack of inspiration, the thought that perhaps the project in its current state had reached all the potential it could possibly muster. “Maybe if we were asked to score a film,” he said several months back. So while we wait for an official decision as to whether The Clientele will ever make new music again, MacLean has been busying himself with a new project, one that he’s been working on sporadically in the last few years. Amor de Dias is his collaboration with Lupe Núñez-Fernández of the Spanish band Pipas. You might think that taking one part British 60s folk and another part Spanish indie pop would create an interesting mixture of sounds and textures, and on paper the concept most definitely seems frought with potential. Instead though, “Street of the Love of Days”, the debut album from Amor de Dias, showcases just how much the two apparently diverse projects its members came from have in common.

Acoustic folk seems to be the common thread between The Clientele and Pipas, and though it wasn’t exclusive to either band, it’s what comprises many of the songs on “Street of the Love of Days”. Of course there’s more to it than just that, including a few infusions of stylistic traits such as flamenco and bossa nova. Additionally, there are numerous guests that provide additional instrumental work on the record, ranging from Damon & Naomi to Gary Olson of Ladybug Transistor. The styles and additional instruments help to keep things varied just enough to maintain interest, which would otherwise be a huge problem considering how sleepy the entire record is. There’s not much that rises above lullabye status, and Núñez-Fernández’s whisper soft vocals trading off against MacLean’s smooth-as-silk calm voice fails to ignite anything. The thing is, exciting and lively compositions are probably the antithesis of what they were aiming for – not that they wanted to put people to sleep either. Subdued beauty is probably the best descriptor of “Street of the Love of Days”, and the album goes a long way towards avoiding anything that doesn’t fit that mold. As a singular work with such intentions, it succeeds brilliantly. Yet it’s also somewhat flawed.

As the record progresses, or simply to say virtually the entire final third of the album’s 15 tracks, there’s something of a breakdown that occurs. Most of those last few songs are under 2 minutes in length, and you get the impression they could all use an extension. It’s like they had more ideas or more to say, and instead of completing the thought/song the choice was made to just end it early. Nothing ever feels outright cut off, but when most of the songs on the first two-thirds of the album average between 3 and 4 minutes in length, all these quick cuts seem just a little suspect. The other issue with Amor de Dias in general is that the two parts that make up the whole, Núñez-Fernández and MacLean, have both made better music in their main bands. Something that’s been brewing over the course of three years deserves a little better than what we’re given on “Street of the Love of Days”, even if the album has a lot going for it. The creative energy, the variations in influences, and even in some cases the emotion in the vocals, are the bits and pieces that made The Clientele and (to a lesser extent) Pipas bands worth spending time with.

Though Amor de Dias may not quite live up to the promise it shows on paper, “Street of the Love of Days” is still an album worth both your time and money. With summer fast approaching, it’s not exactly coming out during the right season, but should you wait a few months for the leaves to start turning colors, you may find it to be the perfect soundtrack. After all, a re-done version of the Clientele track “Harvest Time” isn’t on here only because it’s a great song. There are lovely and great songs peppered across the record, more standouts in a field of beauty. “House of Flint” is one of the first and most interesting tracks, with MacLean operating at his most dynamic. A Núñez-Fernández highlight comes in the form of mid-album cut “Dream (Dead Hands)”, while MacLean strikes back again immediately afterwards on “I See Your Face”. And just before the final third of the record begins, the title track brings an extra dose of sweetness that carries through those shorter and shakier moments that follow. So as we wait to see what will become of The Clientele, Amor de Dias serves as a nice distraction. It doesn’t quite deserve to be considered a main project, but if this little band chooses to put out more records, there’s definitely still untapped potential that can and deserves to be explored.

Amor de Dias – Bunhill Fields

Buy “Street of the Love of Days” from Amazon

Catch Amor de Dias on tour with Damon & Naomi:
May 20 Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery
May 21 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church Chapel
May 22 Brooklyn, NY – Knitting Factory
May 23 Allston, MA – Great Scott
May 25 Toronto, ON – Horseshoe
May 26 Pontiac, MI – Pike Room at Crofoot
May 27 Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
May 28 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
May 31 Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
Jun 01 Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
Jun 03 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
Jun 04 Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite
Jun 05 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar

Album Review: The Clientele – Minotaur [Merge]

There’s been oh so much talk in the past couple years about the retirement of The Clientele. Singer and guitarist Alasdair MacLean said the following prior to the release of the band’s last album “Bonfires on the Heath”: “I think it’d close the chapter quite well. If you don’t have any more ideas you should just go away, I guess.” This among other discussion of possibly breaking up the band once they had finished touring in support of their current record. He also mentioned the possibility of The Clientele continuing to make music should they find an interesting reason to. The idea was floated that they might be amenable to working on a film soundtrack or something similar. Well, there’s no word on that just yet, but MacLean has already announced a new project he’s working on called Amor de Dias. While we wait to see what will come of that, there’s a brand new Clientele mini-album in our midst this week. Titled “Minotaur”, it spans 8 tracks and 30 minutes and is about what you’d expect from the band.

As with any band that’s been around for 10 years and has four albums to their name, there are certain things that are a normal part of every Clientele song. Their first couple records waded largely in the quiet, pastoral 60’s folk-pop arena, there were plenty of catchy moments to be found, but much of it was somber and “autumnal” in nature. “Bonfires on the Heath” was very much in that vein as well, though that was more a return to form after the surprisingly upbeat and much more pop-driven “God Save the Clientele”. And while the variations in their sound may only have been minimal, the additions of some new members and instruments has served them well in the end. The Clientele have learned how to smooth out every rough edge of their music and even when a song completely falls flat it still comes off shiny and gorgeous. Where “Minotaur” falls is right in the band’s sweet spot, very capably balancing the soft and beautiful, the surprisingly catchy and the outright experimental.

Opening title track “Minotaur” has the feeling of a great Clientele track, but the lyrical subject matter is a little different from the typical “love and nature” topics MacLean tends to focus on. The explanation behind that one is pretty easy, as apparently drummer Mark Keen wrote the lyrics. “Jerry” comes in next and is smooth as silk until a surprise guitar solo tears things up and elevates the song above the band’s average. One of the most fascinating things about “As the World Rises and Falls” is that it was originally done by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. This cover version not only works well with the rest of the mini-album, but The Clientele absolutely make it their own in only the way they could. Things really start to get interesting around “Strange Town”, a song that has the feeling of a potential hit but then just plain aborts after about 90 seconds. Why the band chose to leave the song in what feels like an underdeveloped state is a mystery, but it does work in the sense that you’re left wanting more. “No. 33” is a token Clientele instrumental track, pleasant and beautiful as expected (and also short), while “The Green Man” is a 5 minute spoken word piece with atmospheric background noise that has sharp echoes of the excellent “Strange Geometry” track “Losing Haringey”. To close things return to a more normal state with the unassuming song “Nothing Here Is What It Seems”. It’s a stately and perfect way to end the mini-album, and that could be said about the tracklisting to the entire thing – arranged exactly the way it needs to be.

Perhaps the saddest part of “Minotaur” is again the continued suggestion that any day now The Clientele are just going to put down their instruments and call it quits. Given their long streak of prolific and completely underrated albums, the music world would certainly be missing a band filled to the brim with great talents. Yes, Alasdair MacLean will land on his feet, probably with his new project, but this collection of talent, including the newest member in multi-instrumentalist Mel Draisey is too strong to simply let go. “Minotaur” may be a swan song for The Clientele, so it’s a great thing that they might be going out on a high note. If “Bonfires on the Heath” really was intended to be the last record the band released, the themes of autumn and the slow descent into winter/death of nature were perfectly planned at the time. With “Minotaur”, it feels like when an old friend that moved away years ago finally returns for a visit. You’re so blissfully happy to see that person again and you wrap them in a warm hug and wish that they could just come back home where they belong forever. Well, life doesn’t always work out how we want it to. The future of The Clientele remains in peril, and we can hope they’ll continue onwards, but the choice is not ours to make. Perhaps if enough of us show support for “Minotaur”, we’ll continue to get more gracefully beautiful music from this band. If that doesn’t work, our memories will have to suffice.

The Clientele – Jerry

Buy “Minotaur” from Amazon

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