The Clientele

The Violet Hour

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In some ways, it's hard to believe that The Violet Hour is the Clientele's first proper full-length album. The band has released so many lovely singles and EPs in the five years prior to this album that it seems like a full-length release must have come out a few years ago (2001's singles collection Suburban Light doesn't count). The wait was well worth it, though; The Violet Hour not only perfects the gorgeously hazy pop of their previous releases, it also adds a guileless freshness to it that is completely apt for their debut album. As with most of their other work, in The Violet Hour's world it's always summer, and usually sunset; instantly nostalgic, poignant tunes such as "Voices in the Mall" and "Everybody's Gone" capture the dusky side of summer perfectly. Indeed, most of the album reflects -- and radiates -- warmth, from its generally languid mood to the way its songs blend into each other like slow-flowing honey. Alasdair MacLean's whispery vocals are drenched in faraway reverb, and, along with the band's sleepy guitars and understated drums, creates such an exquisite ambience that the album's unhurried tempos and melodies never sound boring. While "The Violet Hour" and "House on Fire" breeze along on slightly livelier tempos, and "The House Always Wins" ignites into the Clientele's version of rock, none of these songs break the spell that is cast by "When You and I Were Young," "Lamplight," and "Haunted Melody"; and that spell is deepened by the chiming bells that punctuate the album. With so much going on musically, The Violet Hour doesn't even need meaningful lyrics, but it delivers those too, especially on "Missing," where MacLean sighs, "I've got so much longing in my heart that I can't even sleep" with such sweetly quiet resignation that it's breathtaking, once you hear it. It's true that the Clientele's influences still shine through in their music, yet the band doesn't sound derivative; by not trying to overtly rework their sound or hide their roots, they allow themselves -- and their listeners -- to just revel in the beauty of their music. So, while The Violet Hour doesn't offer anything different from the Clientele's previous work, it does offer more of it, and that is a wonderful thing.

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