The Clientele

Music for the Age of Miracles

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Although they haven't made a record together for many years, from the first notes of the Clientele's 2017 album, Music for the Age of Miracles, it's like they never went away. The band's albums have such a burnished, timeless feel that hearing a new one after so long is like putting on a favorite sweater on the first chilly night of fall. The same lovely, strolling melodies, Alasdair MacLean's companionable vocals, the expansive sweep of the arrangements; it's all there and as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. The difference this time is that before writing songs for the record, MacLean reconnected with old friend Anthony Harmer, who has a mastery of several non-Western stringed instruments. Together, the two worked out the songs and basic arrangements, then bassist James Hornsey and drummer Mark Keen came aboard, more string players were contacted, and Lupe Núñez-Fernández, MacLean's partner in his other band, Amor de Días, joined to provide vocals. It all comes together perfectly as expected, yet there are some surprising factors at play. Harmer's skill at playing santur (an Iranian version of a dulcimer) and saz adds some interesting texture around the edges and plays off nicely against MacLean's trademark guitar arpeggios. The array of stringed instruments allows MacLean to move away from that style a little bit, sometimes forsaking it entirely, like on the disco-informed "Everything You See Tonight Is Different from Itself," where harpist Mary Lattimore is in charge of providing the glimmering arpeggios. The bulked-up yet still almost painfully lovely arrangements would be nice on their own, but they really shine when paired with some of MacLean's prettiest melodies and sweetest words of a long career dishing out both. The songs have an inner warmth that can't be contained by speakers. Tracks like "Everyone You Meet" and "The Neighbor" are like tiny balls of autumn sunshine held in the palm of his hand, "Falling Asleep" and "The Age of Miracles" are like the last warm breeze before the leaves start falling, and it all feels like classic, heartwarming Clientele. Add in Harmer's string mastery and the expanded, sometimes epic arrangements, and it's like classic Clientele plus. Tweaking the formula could have been a disaster, but Harmer fits into the band's setting like he was there all along, and his additions are beautiful and highly complementary. The wait between albums may have seemed interminable, but the return is both a relief and a true pleasure. The times are always right for music as healing and calm as the Clientele's; the times surrounding the release of this wonderfully peaceful and uplifting album need it even more -- and, thankfully, the band has responded with some of its best work ever.

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