Thursday, 11 October 2012

Clinic - Free Reign

Clinic release their seventh studio album "Free Reign" after a period of mediocrity. Previous album "Bubblegum" never caught my attention and 2008s "Do It!" was heavily plagued by a more conventional indie rock sound compared to their usual alternative, neo-psychadelia sound which they adopted in the 90s. Throughout their career Clinic have been signed to Domino Records, one of the biggest independent labels in the United Kingdom. Clinic are not a popular artist and they very rarely hear mentions from the music publications of today. Nonetheless, there’s still a market for Clinic and there has been for quite a while. "Internal Wrangler" was released in 2000 and had a major impact on what would be Clinic's signature sound. That signature sound is not unique; it's a mash-up of sounds from the likes of The Doors, Phil Spector and Pixies.

Clinic could easily be labelled post-punk. I for one prefer to describe them as a neo-psychadelia band from Liverpool. "Free Reign" touches on the German krautrock movement of the 70s and 80s. The opening track "Misty" sounds reminiscent to Suicide's "Ghost Rider". The deep bass is used courageously alongside the brilliant lead guitar. Vocalist Ade Blackburn delivers one of his freshest and melodic vocals in years. There’s no denying the brilliance of Clinic, their debut album was a phenomenal piece of music. You can't quite compliment Clinic too much because you know this isn't an original sound. They have been taking bits and bobs from other artists since they started releasing music and performing on stage (see Clinic's live attire, influenced by The Residents).

"Seesaw" is quite different in style. The thumping bass has been replaced by an excellent guitar riff. The drumming is repetitious but fits the tracks melody. The ever important clarinet makes an appearance, as does the melodica. Here we have two signature Clinic instruments together in the same track. Seesaw is quite minimal in that the tempo is unusually slow for a Clinic track. Their sound has matured since their previous album in 2010. "Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)", is that seriously the track name? Clinic seem to drop deeper and deeper into obscurity on this album. One album that sticks in my mind when listening to this track is Closer by Joy Division. The dark synths and flaccid electronic drum pattern match those of Joy Division. This is an excellent track with minimalism and gothic textures.

The most unusual track on the album is "Cosmic Radiation". It's somewhat jazzy and stark with a thick bass riff that could have been pulled from a Velvet Underground B-side. This track is also the shortest and by far the most experimental track on the album. "Miss You" continues the minimalism with an excellent electronic drum pattern. The right sided electric guitar is enjoyable as always, with plenty of reverb applied. The bass is groovy and soothing. Clinic don't see the need to raise the volume level on these tracks. One of their major flaws has been the unnecessary breaks of guitar layers and noise. They pretty much hit the mark with Miss You.

"For The Season" is another cracking minimal track with ambience and beautiful guitar textures. They have really excelled in applying the right amount of effects. The melodies are spot on and the instrumentation is honestly terrific. This whole album is a relaxing experience. I can patch it to a late night drive or a candle-lit bath if you're into that sort of thing. "King Kong" is slightly different in style given the melodica riff which they're most famous for. The track is still a slow little jam, but the melodica adds that bit of difference. The drumming mixes both real life drumming on a drum kit and programming cymbal hits on a drum machine. Clinic have become this slightly matured electronic act with post-punk/gothic rock in their sights, it's rather bemusing. One of the oddest moments on this album comes two minutes into this track, where the fader gets a workout and the track ultimately becomes maxed out on electronic production. The mixing of this album was handled by Daniel Lopatin, otherwise known as Oneohtrix Point Never.

"You" is distinguished by its soundscape intro. The bass riff screams for more attention and that attention is rightfully given a few seconds later as the electric guitar shreds through. Ade delivers another brilliant vocal with harmony at heart. The track builds-up with a noise drone, however it's a weak build up and the track lingers on. The final track "Sun and the Moon" happens to be one of the oddball tracks on the album. Instrumentation is their weapon, and boy don't they use it. The clarinet makes a blunt mark on the track. The monotonous bass is significant in keeping the track in tune. The left sided organ shines bright and screams for centre stage but Clinic are having none of it. The little clarinet/organ riff around 1.30 sounds like the chorus to The Beatles - "We're Only Sleeping".

Free Reign is a short album. The nine tracks accumulate to under 40 minutes and of those 40 minutes a high majority of it is spent on a monotonous drum pattern, minimal guitar work and a soft vocal by Ade. Clinic hold their influences high above their heads and this album is a great example of an artist reaching and striving for something more and something different. They have used their innovative to manipulate several key 70s / 80s genres and make it their own. I adore the use of the drum machine; I think it works wonders for them. The lack of organ riffs is worrying considering it's one of their most interesting aspects as a band. I can't seem to pick out any fantastic tracks other than Miss You. I don't think Clinic are alienating their fans by releasing this album, but I do think they're reaching that period in their career when they need to start thinking about the long term future. They have adopted this minimalistic sound, now they need to develop it into something new and innovative.


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