Two very different artists this week. London band The Clientele dip into 1960s chamber-pop with their seventh studio album. Chicago’s Jamila Woods doesn’t deviate from her usual R&B. Yet she explores different themes, tackling love instead of politics.
I Am Not There Anymore
Indie guitar band The Clientele have been releasing quality music since last century. They feel anachronistic – like they’re making music that belongs to an earlier era. On their seventh album, they often ditch guitars altogether. They use the format of a double album to stretch out, often dipping into 1960s-inspired chamber pop.
If you only had 45 minutes and for one of the songs you said, I want it to be an atonal string quartet with someone reading a poem over it, everyone would say, “Well, I’m not sure about that. Why don’t we do another pop song instead?” But at this length, you have room to experiment and slow things down and make people listen to different things in different moods.https://aquariumdrunkard.com/2023/07/05/the-clientele-the-aquarium-drunkard-interview-2/
Often, I Am Not There Anymore sounds like it comes from the late 1960s. It recalls The Left Banke or the dreamy psychedelia of The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ . There are strings and horns, as well as keyboard instruments like Mellotron and celesta. There’s an autumnal, nature-based feel to much of the material – song titles like ‘Stems of Anise’ and ‘Dying in May’.
Despite the chamber-pop arrangements, the songs aren’t always slow – songs like ‘Lady Grey’ and ‘I Dreamed of You, Maria’ are fast-paced. There are more experimental moments – Jessica Griffin lends her precise diction to spoken-word pieces like ‘My Childhood’ and ‘The Village is Always on Fire’.
I Am Not There Anymore creates an immersive world over its hour of running time – it’s close to a masterpiece.
Water Made Us
Chicago R&B singer Jamila Woods has had an almost impeccable solo career to date. Her debut featured the anthem ‘Blk Girl Soldier’, one of my favourite songs of the decade. 2019’s Legacy! Legacy! was an instant classic, with its 13 tracks profiling African-American heroes like ‘Miles’, ‘Muddy’, and ‘Eartha’. On her third solo album, she’s pulled away from the political, with an album centered on love. Conceptualised during the COVID pandemic, Water Made Us traces the cycle of a relationship.
Woods is also a published poet, so it’s not surprising that her lyrics are consistently eloquent and insightful. Opening track ‘Bugs’, features the line “Will I ever settle down/Turn my life around?”
Woods seems less guarded this time around. I’ve never heard her sound as joyful as on ‘Practice’. Accompanied by the rapper Saba, she delivers lines like “It’s been a few days and I’m missin’ your face”, less dignified than usual.
There are lots of strong songs, but it’s hard to go past the singles. ‘Tiny Garden’ opens into a vibrant chorus, sounding African with its percussion and joyful vocals. ‘Boomerang’ is also beautiful, featuring Woods’ smooth vocals.
Whether she’s tackling politics or love, Woods is always classy.