spin it again: the clientele's "suburban light"



Most of my favorite albums did not come to be my favorites immediately. There’s plenty of music out there that’s instantly gratifying, music that doesn’t indulge in the potential pretensions of subtleties. Yet I find there’s more depth, more to love in music that doesn’t wear everything on its sleeve. Simple riffs, bass licks, melodies, and lyrics are given room to breathe in the absence of overproduction, rather than being suffocated. The audible isn't the only thing that benefits from negative space; the mind is given room to contemplate. Whether it be reminiscing about the past or appreciating the present, emotional connections are easily forged. This is usually what leads to an album becoming a favorite in my experience. By living in the moment and accompanying said moment with music, that period of your life becomes immortalized in that 30-60 minute runtime of an album.


More typically, experiences are fossilized in songs, due to having the upper hand on a full-length album when it comes to convenience and time. It’s definitely more conventional to associate a single song with places and people rather than 10-12 of them. I found this happened with the closing track on Galaxie 500’s album, On Fire. The song was a cover of the George Harrison song, “Isn’t It a Pity”. I didn’t find it remarkable the first time around. The nasal vocals and simplistic chords were all that were revealed by my shallow and cursory listen. It took some token teenage trauma (holy alliteration) for me to find the beauty in it. After that single song clicked with me, I found the appeal in the rest of their discography. A psychedelic atmosphere paired with jam session-esque guitar solos and a vocalist imbued with adolescent spirit resulted in a summer spent listening to little other than their live album and other studio offerings.


Of course, too much of a good thing is a bad thing or something like that, but that didn’t stop me from trying to find other bands that filled the niche Galaxie did. I had little success. Music algorithms and recommendations offered up bands such as Slowdive and The Jesus and Mary Chain; wonderful bands, but they didn’t possess the same spirit I was looking for. I came to accept defeat until a friend, like-minded in taste in music, turned me onto The Clientele.


I spent a rainy March night listening to their 2000 compilation, Suburban Light. It was familiar, but new. The hazy, summery, stoner atmosphere prevalent in the music of Galaxie 500 was replaced by a tone equally psychedelic, yet gentler and more melancholy. I found the lyrics were also less direct and blunt, focusing on imagery and evocation rather than direct romance tropes. It’s a dream of lost love, drenched in yearning and lead singer Alasdair MacLean’s references to rainy days and nights. It’s also a ridiculously cozy album. The warbly vocal melodies hug the bass like a quilt as the guitar meanders throughout the tracks. If you don’t have a go-to rainy day album, you’ve just found it.


It’s a nice feeling, to find and forge connections with new music at the beginning of the year. It functions as a comforting presence, something familiar yet new. Something to help crystalize your beginning ventures and the defining experiences of the new year. So if you ever find yourself looking out your window at a cityscape blurry from the rain in the foreground, or anything aesthetically related to that scene, I hope you cherish it. I also hope you'll be listening to Suburban Light. ✉


article by: jackson emery

visual by: pitchfork

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