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Clinic – (Live photos added)

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Saturday, 03 February 2007
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So you’ve got a couple of rock critics (okay, most of them) saying you sound like the Velvet Underground.

Then you, eager listener, are sitting at your local hipster-inhabited coffee house that lets you smoke inside after 10pm (no names will be named for the sake of the establishment), and the Domino label-adoring barista puts on the new Clinic album, Visitations.

Is it, is it Suicide? Is it some warped up bastardized version of shoegaze? You know what it is but you just can’t get at it.

You find yourself stumbling. Your indie cred is gone as you know it. You’ll never be invited to another one of those damn magazine launch parties ever again.

Then comes the melodica to save the day, the framing device for many of Clinic’s songs. Amplified, distorted and weaved so inextricably to the haunted maze of their sonic landscape, it sounds more like the virtuosity of a Memphis jazz saxist than all the gratuitous kitsch it’s normally associated with.

“Choosing melodica went hand in hand with using old spring reverbs,” says singer Ade Blackburn. “The two combined can make simple notes sound really widescreen. But I think the novelty visual neck tie side was a strong consideration definitely.”

Widescreen is the operative word here. It’s like hearing a familiar tune you forgot to take note of, without the all-too appropriately placed pop hook you’re used to hearing with such an instrument. In a similar vein, Clinic continues to baffle rock critic’s attempts at finding comparisons for their sound—their influences are crafted so cleverly the components are barely discernible.

“It was more taking the approach of CAN, Velvets, etc., which is basically punk, rather than wanting to copy,” says Blackburn. “So there’d usually be an out-of-place element. For example, the autoharp, lounge music, to give it a new identity.”

“We start with rhythms. They’re always the foundation. After that it’s fairly random, but the melodies can be less obvious if the starting point is right. Our approach is often to place expected situations and topics next to something really skewed and back to front with quick shifts in the music and/or lyrics.”

With Visitations, the band showcases an incredible return to form, drawing from their millennia-released first album, Internal Wrangler, as their source material. It is also the first album they’ve recorded themselves, lending even more of a raw, primitive valor to the record.

“I think with conventional studios you become too aware of the time and money,” Blackburn says. “With Visitations we had the freedom to record when something was still brand new and not worry about mistakes. That’s usually when the rawness and urgency comes out best.”

Then it’s no irony that the subject matter on the album takes a primitive twist as well. “It’s just looking at behavior with people battling with their self,” says Blackburn. “I think now selfishness is actually accepted. The rise of quick celebrity/reality television is just like watching animals.”

Visitations has tracks that are fully, impressionistically integrated, as with “Animal/Human,” a haunting girl group number slashed so vehemently by a wah-wah guitar pedal midway, it would make Phil Spector turn in his grave. And of course there’s the title track, perhaps the most self-realized moment of the album—a peripheral duet between Blackburn and his animal counterpart, played by the melodica. It closes the album with Blackburn reiterating, “You’re hunted by yourself,” until he seems to disintegrate. It is a perfect model of integration that needs no reliance on narrative, despite the theme-heavy approach Blackburn seems to be taking.

“Stories can limit the shelf-life of a song,” Blackburn admits. “I think it’s best to leave something open to interpretation.”

So could being an art-rock foursome hailing from Liverpool (of all places), wearing surgical masks onstage, and of course being compared to the beloved VU, make an indie band from the U.K. asking to be just another fad? But somehow, Clinic have never fallen prey to such a beast. For one thing, Blackburn says the band records with the surgical masks on. And perhaps the most tongue-in-cheek feat to combat the nature of the industry was the title of their previous album. “Winchester Cathedral was the opposite of an accepted ‘cool’ indie title,” says Blackburn. “I loved the crap Britishness of it. To aim to be cool or in with a trend seems like the kiss of death.”

On their spring tour in support of Visitations, Clinic will be doing a lot more than hissing through surgical masks. Blackburn says they’ll have “big hats and a metal shearer” this time around.

Visitations is out now on Domino.

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