In the early ‘90s through to the early ‘00s there was a propensity for indie pop acts to adapt a ‘60s sound, drawing comparisons to popular sunshine and psychedelic pop bands from that era. This was especially true for groups like The Crayon Fields, The Apples in Stereo, and, perhaps, most especially The Clientele. Suburban Light, a collection of the London trio’s earliest singles released in 2000, had a reverb-heavy sound that, when paired with the generously airy, unmistakably analog recordings, could have potentially fooled even the most well-versed psych pop fan into believing they’d stumbled upon a long-lost band from thirty-five years prior.
I’m Not There Anymore, the Clientele’s eighth proper studio album, finds frontman Alasdair MacLean, bassist James Hornsey, and drummer Mark Keen stretching out stylistically, enlisting the assistance of an assemblage of brass and bowed instrumentalists to enhance the band’s latest sonic explorations. At just over one hour in length, the nineteen songs that comprise I’m Not There Anymore may seem unwieldy for a pop album, but considering this is the Clientele’s first full-length record in almost six years, it stands to reason the band would have by this time amassed a considerable catalog of new material.
A cello paired with a hip-hop-inspired beat and handclaps drives “Fables of the Silverlink”, the album’s opening number. MacLean’s unmistakably woozy vocals soon enter as do horns and a gentle lead guitar. The eight-and-a-half-minute track is the record’s longest, but its constant evolution, both instrumentally and vocally (Alicia Macanás singing beautifully in Spanish), helps keep things interesting for the duration. “Radial B” is a short, contemplative solo piano interstitial moment that acts as an ear reset before the laidback, psychedelic “Garden Eye Mantra” starts up. MacLean’s lyrics and phrasing are top notch as he sings, “Then Kathleen, I’ll talk to you, it’s like reading an empty room, when you feel okay, at the end of the day, and your eyesight dances like the junes in the hay.”
The cluster of songs that make up I Am Not There Anymore’s second quarter have the band stepping on the accelerator tempo wise as they first deliver “Lady Grey”, which, with its catchy chorus comes across as the album’s most likely lead-off single. “Dying in May” denotes the trio’s psychedelic inclinations with the inclusion of bongos, sporadic bells, and echoey, overlapped vocals. “Conjuring Summer In” makes use of Mark Keen’s writing being spoken by a serious-sounding Jessica Griffin while a sprightly beat loops along with a thoughtful piano refrain and occasional strings. The record’s halfway point is reached with the excellent “Blue Over Blue”. The song is another standout moment that would work well as a single. A memorable chorus and a fake-out fade-out help make the song an obvious favorite, setting the bar high for I Am Not There Anymore’s second half.
The wonderful chorus during the bossa nova number “Claire’s Not Real” has MacLean sounding absolutely inspired as he sings, “But as the nighttime fades away, I don’t know, I don’t know anyway.” Another one of Jessica Griffin’s spoken word moments arrives with “My Childhood”. Here, she says things like, “In my childhood, the village is always on fire,” as chaotic strings play around her in a way not entirely unlike PJ Harvey’s “Man-Size Sextet”. The album’s last quarter starts up with “Hey Siobhan”, a mid-tempo song that features some lovely bass work by Hornsey and is mixed appropriately to showcase it. I Am Not There Anymore is concluded with “The Village Is Always on Fire”. The song opens with Griffin’s spoken word parts from “My Childhood” played over backmasked percussion before a cello enters in, ending the album the same way it began.
I Am Not There Anymore deploys all of the Clientele’s strengths buffered by occasional interposed moments that serve to reset the listener’s ears before proceeding. This is an album made to be listened to from beginning to end; and with a recording of this length, of this style, idiosyncratic in-betweeners become a necessity, as it could be potentially tiring and deceptively samey sounding to experience this many songs of this style consecutively without intermittent breaks. With this latest record, the Clientele prove that thirty-plus years in, they still have a lot to offer. I Am Not There Anymore is a great addition to the band’s already strong catalog.