Free Reign... That's a pun, right?
Review: Clinic – Free Reign
Published on November 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Liverpool quartet Clinic had been sidling up towards the realms of the approachable with their last two studio albums, 2008’s Do It! and 2010’s Bubblegum, the latter of which in particular toyed with traditional pop structures in a rather perverse way, plying it all with discordant chords, unorthodox use of wah pedal and Ade Blackburn’s menacing, instantly identifiable vocals. Basically, Clinic took on pop and came out on top, nay consumed it whole, so that pop music was just a protruding shape in Clinic’s snake belly. Now it’s been digested, and Clinic are back to sounding broodingly hypnotic on this, their seventh LP, mixed by Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never.
Opener “Misty” is a strange case; its constituent elements are all quite sweet in isolation from each other – a dubby two-note bass line, an almost country-ish lilt to the vocal, a nice chiming guitar part – but they’re all caught in this strange Clinical vacuum of sparseness that somehow makes it all sound really quite edgy, in more than one sense of the word. Clinic welcome you back to their dimension, folks.
The ensuing “See Saw” pits two of the band’s key characteristics against each other as phased, distorted guitar competes with creepily reverbed melodica for attention, the latter winning on points by casting an ascending melody into the titular chorus/breakdown/whatever it is, injecting some daftness into the pervading air of menace in doing so. Blackburn chants away in that compelling way of his, and Rocksucker wonders if his own sinister brand of jittery grooviness positions him as a sort of midway point between Thom Yorke and David Byrne without particularly sounding an awful lot like either. You might be able to think of two more pertinent counterweights, but there you go.
“Seamless Boogie Woogie BBC2 10 (rpt)” is sure no boogie, rather a brooding Motorik strut that suddenly switches key then gives way to a stunningly effective deployment of more squelchily phased guitar, not to mention a sinisterly breathy whisper of “you’re beautiful”. There are shades of Bubblegum to the use of wah pedal on “Cosmic Radiation”, a jazzy shuffle with dreamy ambient interjections and what sounds like a clarinet, or at least a melodica doing a darn good impersonation of one. “For the Season” also brings to mind Free Reign‘s predecessor with the relative sweetness this time provided by the lullaby lilt to Blackburn’s “oh you wants what you can’t get” and some spaced-out dubbiness that recalls Giant Steps-era Boo Radleys. It’s floaty, otherworldly, superb overall, and yes that probably is a clarinet.
In between “Cosmic Radiation” and “For the Season” we get another nocturnal, Motorik thing in the form of “Miss You”, another that somehow leaves an indelible and individual mark through the medium of simple two/three-note guitar lines and the like. It’s a masterful display of melodic minimalism insomuch as every track here has its own strange distinguishing features; furthermore there are just enough curve-balls to keep you second-guessing, in this case a brief heavenwards ascent into luxurious major 7th chords, and what sounds like a repetition of the word ‘turquoise’ at the end.
“You” kicks in with a drum machine that instantly brings to mind “The Second Line” but it’s a different proposition altogether, initially swarming the mix with people sounds (for want of a more technical turn of phrase), before the Circulatory-System-reminding-of “Sun and the Moon” signs the album off on a brilliantly loopy note, all incantationy mumbling, pulsing monotone bass and wailing clarinet, or sax, whichever it is. It all fades out, and it’s the end of Clinic’s latest transmission. Free Reign is perhaps more spiritually aligned with 2002’s Walking With Thee and 2004’s Winchester Cathedral than the aforementioned more recent LPs, but more than anything else it is another excellent addition to what has become an enviable back catalogue.
To still be on this kind of form seven albums in…well, that’s no mean feat, you know.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
Free Reign will be released on 12th November by Domino. For more information, please visit www.clinicvoot.org