Few bands appeared so fully-formed and so defined their aesthetic from the start as Liverpool’s surgical masked and gowned cosomonaut cadets Clinic. Similarly, few bands have ended up being trapped by that same combination of elements despite working resolutely out on the margins of what indie has become. Garage-y psychedelia heavy on piercing organ, mumbled vocals and electro-shock guitar licks, plus the odd spooked-out slower track, in thrall to the Velvet Underground, Neu!, 13th Floor Elevators and the Monks… it’s an approach that’s rarely failed on the qualitative side, but it did mean you kind of knew what the record would broadly sound like from the moment it was announced. It’s perhaps most telling that when they tried to move away from the signature sound, the acoustic-led spaced out meditations of 2010′s Bubblegum weren’t as convincing.
Seventh album Free Reign (and yes, it does seem to have taken them a long time to get round to using that sort of optical illusion as an album cover) isn’t an entire retreat to what they knew best but while moments from previous sonic patchworks are familiar – a snakecharmer flute here, a fuzzed-out riff there, a load of reverb on Ade Blackburn’s voice almost everywhere – the songs therein are generally longer and somehow more mature in approach. The melange still comes across as sinister and shivery but there are only trace elements of the wild-eyed thrash of yore. Instead there’s a greater reliance on heightened tension, meandering spacey explorations and deceptively simple underpinning melodies. Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, mixes two tracks – ‘Miss You’, equipped with a skittering breakbeat and ‘You’, which develops through so many waves of unsourceable sonic pans that it might register on a Geiger counter – but his influence and that of those like him is most apparent in the textured, ethereal while still sonically open rhythms gliding just under the surface.
Later Clinic albums are usually of a piece and create an atmosphere of unresolved tension for all their pace deviations, so while the pulsing rhythm section, staccato riff and sense of desperation in ‘Seesaw’, the repetitive languid kosmiche squelching of the tremendously titled ‘Seamless Boogie Woogie BBC2 10pm (rpt)’ and ‘For The Season’ (essentially what would happen if the Star Wars cantina band had to take bookings in whatever Mos Eisley’s equivalent of an upmarket 1980s late closing candlelit wine bar is) don’t sound like each other they clearly come from the same collective head space. It may not be the all-out electric psych chaos theory of the early albums, but in almost drifting into a settled space where they’re identifiably their own band with their own aesthetic yet being able to mine new ground within the points they’ve mapped out, it’s nevertheless progress of a particular kind.