Hilltop Views

The Clientele’s album revitalizes essence of autumn 9 years after release

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The band formed over 20 years ago.

The band formed over 20 years ago.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

The band formed over 20 years ago.

Gianni Zorrilla, Life and Arts Editor

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With the subtle egress of October and the presence of the most autumn-esque time of year, music is significant to feeling connected with the season. This month marks the ninth anniversary of “Bonfires on the Heath,” London-based indie pop band The Clientele’s fourth studio album.

Since their 1997 formation, the band has produced an extensive discography. On this bewitching record, they venture back to their roots, exemplifying the magic of fall through surrealism-inspired lyricism, reverb-rich instrumentals and mellow sound.

The Clientele has been credited time and time again with the ability to create an entire world contained in a single record, and “Bonfires on the Heath” is no exception. The start of the album marks the entrance into a new space. Frontman Alasdair Maclean illustrates this space through the hazy lens of a dream.

Autumnal imagery is a perpetual stimulant of wonderment. Many elements evoke an almost childlike sense of curiosity. It is a staple component of this record as songs are portrayed in cinematic stills. Images of “bats from the eaves shivering by” and “scarecrows watching the verges of light” are melodically described in MacLean’s characteristically breathy fashion on “Harvest Time.”

“Late October sunlight in the wood” conjures a hauntingly serene atmosphere on the album’s title song, “Bonfires on the Heath.” This atmosphere, dense with sentimentality, highlights persistent memory without crossing into the clichés of generic nostalgia.

“Bonfires on the Heath,” along with much of The Clientele’s catalog, is an album of poetic analyzation—  a vision quest.

Suppose a spectrum existed upon which one end is where you presently are and the opposite end is the world of MacLean’s narrative lyricism. With “Bonfires on the Heath,” you are placed right in the middle, left to wander the gentle haze of what is and what is not. Listeners are removed from present happenings to undergo desolation in imagery as direct presence is substituted for distant, sublime observation. Echoes of soft, controlled drumming and simple chord progressions reverberate.

There is no doubt that a certain familiarity endures throughout the album. The outskirts of nostalgia are explored intently in almost every song, yet it never once crosses into superfluity. With this stylistic framework comes a distinct fragility. The band departs from it occasionally, making a quick, upbeat detour in “Sketch.”

A similar departure from the norm is made on “Share the Night,” yet symbol-laden imagery still appears. “Share the night with me,” MacLean urges, “As the baby bats fly…through the sycamore leaves, the sycamore trees, the haunted faces in the streets.” Horns accompany the song, similar to that of “I Know I Will See Your Face.”

In this album’s particular world, the most mundane sights or faintest sounds can leave one awestricken. MacLean’s fascination often settles upon the very essence of nature’s elements — specifically evening sunlight or the rustling leaves of trees — and dissects its personal meaning to him, backed by gentle guitar and violin work.

The symbolic narratives included in the album are personal enough to suggest the feelings and experiences of the writer himself, yet vague enough to resonate with most any listener, exemplifying a notable attribution of The Clientele: painting serene landscapes with sound.

Songs like “Walking in the Park” exhibit a controlled intensity as MacLean sings of the world around him—boundlessly beautiful. In certain moments it becomes all too overwhelming for him to convey lyrically. “I don’t know what more I can say,” MacLean whispers, closing out the album. And perhaps that is all that needs to be said.

About the Writer
Gianni Zorrilla, Life and Arts Editor

I am Gianni Zorrilla— Communication Major, Journalism minor and Life and Arts Editor at Hilltop Views. This is my sophomore year at St. Edward's University....

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The Clientele’s album revitalizes essence of autumn 9 years after release