Some records remind you of a particular time in your life, some elicit feelings long thought lost, and still others bring to mind people or places that have had a major impact on you. Everyone has records that they hold dear to their hearts -- but the really special albums are the ones that encapsulate every facet of human existence, holding you captive as you relive experiences that have made you the person you are today. In a world gutted with five-inch plastic discs, it takes a special kind of record to not only keep you interested for its duration, but to make you feel anything but fleeting joy. The Violet Hour
is such a record.
London-based trio The Clientele sound as though they've spent many an afternoon perched in the lap of Nick Drake, listening intently as he plucked his guitar and cooed mellifluously about the wonders of the universe. It's fitting, then, that Drake's own Bryter Layter serves as the band's talisman (along side Simon & Garfunkel's Wednesday Morning, 3 AM); such a hazy blend of folkish melodies and near-psychedelic aura is rarely as deeply emotional as it is here. The reason for this, perhaps, is that the Clientele play as though they have absolutely nothing to lose, which is in some ways true -- but that roguish spirit helps The Violet Hour attain such dizzying heights of blithe grandiloquence.
It's a record that plays differently depending on the hour; it's a hazy Sunday morning comedown record, a swooning midday affair suited for tea, and a lantern-burning midnight dirge that's as sweet as the most delicate lullaby you've ever heard. It's also an album that changes according to volume; spun at low tilt, "Porcelain" is a delicate torch song, but turned up it's a sleepy-eyed dirge of washed-out guitars and spectral vocal effects. Similarly, "Everyone's Gone" is a crystalline pop song of loss and longing at low volume, but piped up, it's transformed into a rainbow-tinted psychedelic love fest replete with backwards-loping guitars and a willowy bass figure. Each song is an emotional roller-coaster that never really gets going very fast, but assures that it's never going to pass you by, or perhaps more importantly, run you over.
Those quick to chide the Clientele for indulging their whimsical '60s fixations are missing the point; a gorgeous album is a gorgeous album, whether it was recorded in '66, '96 or '06. Granted, "When You and I Were Young" and "House on Fire" indulge in loads of fey, early-seventies British folkisms (plucked glockenspiels, wispy vocals and earthy harmonies), but when you realize that they're simply reformulating the melodic hush of the Incredible String Band and Pentangle for the modern age, those gripes seem short-sighted. Would you rather hear Fred Durst ram more nü-metal tripe down your throat? We think not.
It's rare that a band can recreate such a broad measure of emotions with such a soft palette. Clientele pulls it off; they'll make you want to get lost in The Violet Hour's warm haze.