THE CLIENTELE with MELLONOVA and RAISING THE FAWN at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (June 15). $7. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
alisdair maclean is worried thatpeople have the wrong impression of the Clientele.Sure, the north London trio play jazzy, classically arranged 60s-style pop without a hint of menace and will talk your ear off about surrealism and long-forgotten pop-psych records if you give them half a chance. And, yes, the jangling songs on their recent Suburban Light set aren't exactly miles away from the folksy mope pop of a certain twee Scottish crew.
But the widespread preconception that MacLean's Clientele are a bunch of soft-spoken poindexters who sit around in sweaters, watch cricket and discuss art is entirely undeserved.
"We do have a reputation as eggheads of rock," MacLean admits with a laugh from his London pad. "People think we're the kind of studious, slow-playing people who make pleasant music but are boring as piss when you actually speak to us.
"That couldn't be further from the truth. We're quite hard-bitten individuals -- we're no Belle & Sebastian, I can tell you that much. We could drink them well under the table."
What the Clientele do share with the Glasgow lightweights is an affection for short pop statements. Suburban Light is a collection of singles the trio has released since 1997 -- short, immediate bursts that pack a lot into three minutes but don't claim to be anything bigger than what they are.
In an age of 70-minute CDs, MacLean admits it's an indulgence to keep things short.
"I like singles as pop art. You can hold them in your hand and they're somehow more disposable and free of the bad connotations of albums. Albums are supposed to be incredibly meaningful and part of the western canon if they're any good. I like the idea that singles breeze past you.
"I think if you're Boards of Canada, a 70-minute record is a good thing. If you're a guitar band, a long record is a bad idea. No one wants to listen to 70 minutes of one person singing, not even Aretha Franklin.
"People complained about our EP The Fading Summer because it was only 15 minutes long. You think, "Christ, have you even listened to it? Would you like another five minutes of us talking so you can feel like you got your money's worth?'"
The Clientele will have a chance to spread themselves out slightly this fall when they drop an EP of imaginary film music.
Ever the conceptualists, MacLean and crew have the details of the instrumental/vocal record already scripted, right down to the scene that inspired the whole project.
"There's some plinky-plonk avant-garde music at the end of Antonioni's The Eclipse," MacLean explains. "We went for that mood as performed by the Left Banke.
"Of course, there is no film. We get approached all the time to put songs on soundtracks. It sounds like a good idea, and then you see the film, it's awful and you feel incredibly relieved that you didn't say yes.
"These aren't big-budget films, though, more third-division fare with Jason Priestley in them. I suppose it wouldn't take the most intelligent individual to realize that a Jason Priestley film is going to be shit. We're just intrigued by the money."
At the very least, the new release will give the Clientele a chance to shake up the fans who simply want them to rewrite the exquisite pop of their singles over and over again.
"We're going to record the EP in a dub reggae studio," MacLean snorts. "I've been listening to a lot of reggae lately and I think a couple of our songs could do with a dub treatment.
"It's a fairly unexpected thing for us to do, but I don't care if our fans feel alienated. There are people here in London who've been listening to the same three Jasmine Minks records since 1985, and they've somehow latched onto us. We're their only link to relevancy."