The Clientele’s most prominent attribute might also be their biggest flaw. The Hampshire-via-London band specialise in glassy, fluffed-up dream-pop – complete with hallucinogenic imagery and a sleepy disposition. It makes their music perfect for bedtime, for it’s easy to let the pillowed sounds usher in a good night’s rest. But that also makes the band hard to pay attention to on a critical level, because simply speaking, they’re a little boring. They favour subtle nuance and pre-natal ambivalence to crisp, tangible, concrete sounds.
That struggle makes Minotaur an ideal candidate for a mini-album; longer than an EP, but still too truncated to be considered a full-on record, Minotaur clocks in at just under 30 minutes, and encompasses a mere eight songs. One of these is an extended telling of a short story – further cementing The Clientele as a total English-major band. It’s the most focused, self-sustained and brisk entry in the band’s considerable discography, and it manages to disappear before testing anyone’s endurance. It’s a format that works for a band like The Clientele, for there’s definitely less of a chance of falling asleep with it.
Minotaur has The Clientele embracing their not-quite-as-gauzy side, with little reverb and a clear channel on Alasdair MacLean’s traditionally milky vocals. This is the band you remember from Bonfires On The Heath rather than Suburban Light – less shoegaze, more Spector, with plenty of wide-awake brass textures and guitar squiggles that don’t get dissolved in the singular mix that defined their earliest work. The record doesn’t hold any real surprises, and the songs develop exactly as expected. But that doesn’t mean they’re anything other than gorgeous; witness the summer-touched As The World Rises And Falls, the Who Loves The Sun?-esque Strange Town, the chiming, staccato-centric Paul Verlaine.
All considered, Minotaur is thoroughly pretty and easy to appreciate on a compositional level; the usual blend of modern-era indie pop with iconic ’60s sensibilities. But it’s like that particular horse has been beaten past recognition, rendering Minotaur a little too safe for its own good. There’s nothing challenging (or vicariously rewarding) about the album, and the fact that it’s reduced to a mere eight tracks doesn’t really help. Maybe that’s the way The Clientele want it – slowly seeping into unsuspecting skulls under cover of night, hijacking dreamwaves and slowly eroding consciousness. But that sense of fantasy is eroded when the album ends before a half-hour. It’s probably the most user-friendly Clientele album to ever be released, but for the astute listener, it doesn’t really have the same effect as some of the band’s best work.
Despite all that, The Clientele are still one of the few bands who can allow the longest song on their album be an entirely unmusical, prose-heavy short story with Boards of Canada-esque, train station field recordings underneath it, and still sound completely put together. That’s a testament to this band’s unity of purpose and their originality in the fast-moving realm of independent music.