There's something to be said for stasis. According to advance reports, The Clientele's new Strange Geometry was going to be a departure, moving away from the twinkly, hazy music that made the British indie-pop group a hit among the bedsit set. But "Since K Got Over Me," Strange Geometry's opening song, sounds about as perfectly Clientele as a fan could hope, from its reverberating guitars to lines like "when the evening paints the streets." Yes, the track is a little less echo-y than earlier Clientele, and there's a little more density to the arrangement, which includes bells and castanets. But the song still drifts, enchants, and conjures up the ghosts of something lost.
Elsewhere on Strange Geometry, The Clientele sounds more danceable than usual, when it isn't nodding to a wispy British folk tradition that stretches from Pentangle to The Smiths. As always, the sound is directed toward evoking the intangible, as on the Seeds-quoting "(I Can't Seem To) Make You Mine," where the poignant pull of strings helps repaint garage rock in pastoral hues, or on the urgently reflective "My Own Face Inside The Trees," where the rushed vocal and pumping organ sounds like the fulfillment of all The Clientele's early singles. The only real difference between this disc and the band's previous two is that it's more honed. For anyone who's never heard The Clientele before, this is the record to get.
Similarly, Matt Pond PA's new Several Arrows Later stays in the textured, string-washed mode of the band's earlier work, with only an occasional emphasis on steel guitar and the increasingly Peter Gabriel-like vocals of bandleader Matt Pond to mark progress. But even though Pond and company remain under-recognized—they were farming Sufjan Stevens' territory years before Stevens was getting profiled on NPR—there's no real reason for them to tamper with a fine formula. The best songs on Several Arrows Later channel Pond's existential confusion through skipping rhythm guitars and a headlong rush, topped with wistful lines like "I don't think I want to think about it" and "I think I get it, I'm not sure, I don't know it." It all comes together on the last song, "Devil In The Water," which stands in the cooling shade of '70s troubadours like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne, and pours all of Matt Pond PA's instrumental tricks into something valedictory.