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The Clientele, reliably dreamy for decades, tears up its delicate formula

The Clientele's <em>I Am Not There Anymore</em> is out July 28.
Andy Willsher
Courtesy of the artist
The Clientele's I Am Not There Anymore is out July 28.

From the late '90s onward, The Clientele built a cult following around its amiably spooky, softly psychedelic sound — the aural equivalent of driving a '68 Mini Cooper down rain-slicked roads toward a midnight ghost hunt in the woods. For a long stretch, the British band reliably released a quietly engrossing album every couple of years — consistently dreamy and unlikely to alienate Nick Drake aficionados — only slowing down its output after 2010's Minotaur. But I Am Not There Anymore spends 64 minutes gleefully lobbing a succession of musical monkey wrenches into the delicate patterns the British band has developed in its quarter-century of recording.

"Fables of the Silverlink" upends The Clientele's trad-rock band template with drum-and-bass-tinged breakbeats. Guitar cedes the spotlight to a scene-stealing cello. Midway through, singer/guitarist Alasdair MacLean's confidential, quintessentially English croon is replaced at the forefront by guest Alicia Macanas singing in Spanish.

Guitar, bass and drums are entirely absent from "My Childhood," where Jessica Griffin of the Would-Be-Goods delivers an eerie, disorienting recitation over a string quartet melee that sounds like a rush hour traffic jam. Subtle dub production touches fleck "Garden Eye Mantra," which closes with a repeating chant ominous enough to make you swear off shadowy alleys for a while. "Dying in May" revolves around a confounding time signature and modified flamenco beats.

By album's end we've had everything from impressionistic solo piano daubs (an element inaugurated on the previous album) to a drone derived from a sample of buzzing bees. But outré aspects notwithstanding, The Clientele's gift for the melancholy tear dropper remains eminently intact — if the hazy lost-love recollections of "Chalk Flowers" don't make you misty, you just might be an AI fabrication. I Am Not There Anymore gives the stalwart trio a dazzling new wardrobe, but the same big, bittersweet heart keeps pumping underneath.

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