AMOR DE DIAS | HOUSE AT SEA | Vinyl Record
Alasdair MacLean's unfailingly romantic perspective and vivid imagery alone make for great poetry, and few singers ever achieve as perfect a marriage of content and tone as he did on the Clientele's early records. His voice sounds the way a good memory feels, warm, soft around the edges, lived in, and detailed enough to invite exploration for a while. But those qualities can become a liability for someone trying to live in the present; whenever the Clientele attempted to rock or sound contemporary, he sounded out of his element. With the Clientele on hiatus, his collaboration with Pipas' Lupe Nunez-Fernandez didn't exactly vouch for a change of scenery as the proper remedy; Amor de Días' 2011 debut, Street of the Love of Days, preemptively mitigated expectations with its apologetic presentation, and still managed to underwhelm. Now with The House at Sea legitimizing Amor de Días as a proper band, its predecessor seems a necessary, awkward step in transition. Though The House at Sea still comes off like a travel brochure in audio form, this time MacLean and Nunez-Fernandez at least feel like the people in it rather than those looking at it.
It's a significant improvement on Love of Days, and almost all of it can be chalked up to commitment. Amor de Días' debut was more of a compilation, recorded "in secret" over three years with an open-ended personnel, flipping through 15 songs in various states of completion over its 42 minutes. The House at Sea is the result of nine days in the studio with a steady rhythm section, and each of its 12 songs feels finished and fussed over. While still mostly based in decidedly non-rock forms such as bossa nova and English and Spanish pastoral folk, the songs are considerably more defined-- certain parts even come close to rocking, such as Nunez-Fernandez's surprisingly fleet-footed "Day" and the frisky, nylon-guitar thrum powering "In the Winter Sun". Within this context, a three-chord British Invasion throwback ("Jean's Waving) that could fit on the Clientele's later, more extroverted records has an immediacy that sounds completely out of place on The House at Sea.
More typical are the magic hour lullabies in both native tongues (and even if you haven't taken Spanish since high school, you can follow "Viento del Mar" or "Piedras Rotas" fairly easily) and they're certainly lovely if not a little lyrically lightweight. And while MacLean has tried to slip spoken word into Clientele albums with varying degrees of success, "The Sunlit Estate" and "Maureen" are free-form pieces that function better within Amor de Días' looser artistic restrictions. Centerpiece "Viento del Mar" hinges on a bold major chord change, and, combined with a sinister, wandering bassline and Nunez-Fernandez's nearly subliminal vocals, it's basically a shoegaze song (something along the lines of Serena-Maneesh) relieved of its distortion and reverb, at least until a coda of surprisingly doomy guitar soloing appears.
That said, even with the bolstered band interplay, every instrument feels like it's being massaged rather than strummed, plucked, or hit-- MacLean's voice barely gets above a whisper, Nunez-Fernandez repeats little more than the titles of "Day" and "In The Winter Sun" like she's breathing these compositions into life, and, whatever texture you might get from individual cymbal crashes or a guitar distortions, the whole eventually becomes as gritty as a white sand beach. The House at Sea was inspired by time spent in both London and Madrid, and most of the vocals are given to MacLean, but it's still more far more Mediterranean in pace and climate. For the most part, it's "yacht rock" in the sense that The House at Sea actually makes you feel like you're on a yacht (or catamaran) as opposed to imagining a coked-out, bearded millionaire in his studio.
Even if Amor de Días stands to become MacLean's main focus instead of a side project, he still gets to play the tourist, enviably relaxed and ultimately giving himself a break from the hard work. This inherently limits the overall effect: Clientele songs distinguished themselves from the scores of other nostalgists through their awareness of place, of seeing things a casual onlooker might not, or they found new ways to express the mundane. The House at Sea begins with a classic MacLean-ism ("The streets in June/ The silver moon/ Like paint on glass"), and from there onward, he's not an expert on his surroundings, just someone taking it all in. While the best work of the Clientele created worlds, The House at Sea charmingly aspires to being a photo album, something to inspire your own travels rather than serve as a substitute for them.
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