Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Super Furry Animals They Ain't: Clinic's Do It!

Clinic's fifth album, Do It!, was released last week to generally positive reviews. The Liverpudlian band has always had a rather eclectic, off-the-wall sound that makes them difficult to categorize, a problem which of course makes them terribly interesting as a band. They tend to sound just as unhinged and idiosyncratic as the old organs and keyboards that they ostensibly salvage from flea markets. Clinic's music also makes me think of some gothic circus performing in a swamp in the American Deep South. The fact they obscure their identities by wearing surgical uniforms during performances and photo shoots adds further to their bizarre art rock credentials. Though they've been around for over ten years, I only really became aware of them via Visitations, the album before Do It!. Intrigued by their sound, I went back and listened to their older albums, discovering that Clinic can swerve back and forth between hypnotic and frantic or weave both together to sinister effect. Somehow they manage to both mesmerize and unsettle you at the same time.

In most of the reviews I've read about Do It!, the album is described as psychedelic and perfect for summer, which makes it sound like the record is a Super Furry Animals album - a completely errant assumption to make. I would say that it is less frantic and whirling, less of a dark hoedown, than Visitations - perhaps as sunny as Clinic can get. While their sound has tended to be quite dense in previous albums, Do It! has many lighter moments like the plinking Tomorrow and dreamy Corpus Christi. As usual, Ade Blackburn's vocals sneer, sputter and slur over oscillating rhythms and unexpected arrangements and time signatures, but it's like their sound has been aerated. In some ways, I suppose they have returned to some of the lighter sounds from Internal Wrangler.

Album opener, Memories, begins with chimes reminiscent of Eastern sitar music, but then shifts into fuzzy, romping guitars only to move again during the vocals into a milder psychedelic waltz with organs and cymbals. The Witch (Made to Measure) bumps along like a ride in an apple truck without the vicious, brutal drive of some of Clinic's earlier material. Free Not Free ticks along lazily like a finger trailing alongside a boat with some woodwind sounds, but is interspersed with quick guitar parts that erupt in surprising places. Shopping Bag seems to imitate what a person going mad might hear in their head as dissonant squeals compete with fast guitars and Blackburn's vocals hit falsetto heights. The following track, Emotions, returns once again to a 3/4 time signature, lazily spinning to guitar arpeggios until more fuzzed-out guitars clamour in - it's almost like Johnny Rotten crooning to an old standard. High Coins brings some of the militant rhythms found on Visitations back, but still keeps them at a more restrained level, more likely to hypnotize than to give you auditory vertigo. Mary & Eddie sounds like a Mediterranean song with subdued guitar and simple percussion, but whizzing sound effects and a trembling guitar that sounds like an accordion add more complexity. The final track, the appropriately titled Coda, begins with staccato organ, but as more instruments, including peals of bells, join in, and the spoken vocals begin, the song unwinds into a psychedelic cacophony.

So Do It! does end up being a good summer album with its sunnier sounds and lighter melodies, but it remains a signature Clinic album in its constant disruption of norms and moods, never complacent, never completely relaxed. While Gruff Rhys and Co frolick like puppies with benevolent vocals and spaced out happiness, Clinic always has an underlying current of strange darkness. They may lull you as you sway in a hammock. Only to come up behind you and tip you out of it.

The Witch (Made to Measure) - Clinic

Shopping Bag - Clinic

Emotions - Clinic

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