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The Clientele 

The Violet Hour

Wednesday, Sep 17 2003
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The Clientele's The Violet Hour sounds like a Beach Boys or Belle & Sebastian record played through a misty fog. Occasionally, piecemeal guitar lines drift above the haze, but for the most part, reverb-laden vocals muddle the lyrics and the songs all start to run together. This sonic blur is pleasantly disorienting at the right moments, but often wants for clarity and focus.

The record marks the London trio's first LP, after numerous Brit-only EPs and 2000's collection of singles and EP tracks, Suburban Light. Fans of that CD will be pleased to find the Clientele sticking to its arrestingly original sound. But the chosen formula offers a little too much of every element. With a few notable exceptions, The Violet Hour emanates sameness -- nearly every song maintains a steady, midtempo pace with unimaginative snare and cymbal fills and lots and lots of lyrics about the moon, clouds, gardens, streets, and rain.

The album starts with an eclecticism that, unfortunately, doesn't carry over into the lagging second half. The opener is the swingy, faster-paced title track, which is littered with tambourine and navel-gazing lyrics like "I see your face each time I close my eyes." That exercise then slips comfortably into "Voices in the Mall," a marked contrast with its slow, dreamy twang. With "House on Fire," the Clientele offers its strongest single, notable because it crams pretty sounds and clever hooks into a rigid structure -- unlike many other Violet Hour tracks, which just meander. Here, aggressive guitars lick the lyrics of the chorus ("Through the doors of summer/ We pass away"), and a dark, jazzy bridge recalls Saucerful of Secrets­era Pink Floyd.

But often, the band's unyielding commitment to drab guitar work and rudimentary drum play makes The Violet Hour more sedative than inspiration -- just right for the perfect pensive mood but frustrating in the wrong mind-set.

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Nancy Einhart

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