First Repressions: Strange Geometry

We want to think our favorite artists get us, but maybe that’s only a projection. Maybe we just want to imagine, because we like a particular songwriter, that he/she can empathize and make us feel less alone. That’s certainly I how feel with Alasdair MacLean and his band, The Clientele.

But maybe it’s not merely a projection, especially in the case of the band’s 2005 album, Strange Geometry. Just listen to MacLean’s wispy, lachrymose delivery and how he uses tremolo in every song. Listen to Louis Philippe’s precious string arrangements. Heck, just look at the tracklisting, and it becomes apparent why this album was so special and devastating. With titles like “Since K Got Over Me,” “(I Can’t Seem To) Make You Mine,” “When I Came Home from the Party,” “Impossible,” and worst of all, “E.M.P.T.Y.,” the songs hit way too close to home for me. The album is perfect.

You, discerning music lover, can certainly find many more gushing reviews of initial release of Strange Geometry. But this is a review for a reissue, a case for the album’s recontextualization in 2016. You see, new vinyl is everywhere these days, so it’s easy to forget a time when that wasn’t the case. A time when internet stores were still a novelty and Borders was known for its great selection of CDs. If you got lucky, perhaps you could find a used copy of that new life-changing CD at one of the few independent record stores still open in the Kansas City area.

See, The Clientele is an obscure British band licensed to an independent record label in America. Tracking down the CD proved difficult after a friend shared the MP3s with me via AOL Instant Messenger in 2005. (You can imagine the elation I felt when I finally found the CD for $5.99 at Missing Link in Indianapolis.) I knew that finding it on vinyl, an even more rare format for new releases back then, was out of the question.

A decade later, I’ve benefitted from, not necessarily fallen prey to, the recent trend of reissuing albums on vinyl. Except that it’s not exactly a trend, nor is it recent. Every time a new technology (radio, blank tapes, file sharing, etc.) seems to threaten record labels’ revenue streams, songs are repackaged as albums, double albums, boxsets or whatever.

But sometimes labels reissue albums to make them available again after years of being out-of-print (and potentially expensive on the secondhand market). I think that’s the case with Merge’s reissue of Strange Geometry. Fans of rainy day music no long need to cough up 40 or 50 bucks for a first pressing of the album on Discogs. And not only is the album available again, but the label has also bundled it with a download of a bonus EP. (No, the extra songs aren’t exactly necessary or revelatory, but they are beautiful.)

So embrace the limitations again of the physical LP. When the side two is finished, refill your cup of coffee and flip over the record again.

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