Clinic's Do It!

Masked minimalists ease up

Disappointment is easier to grasp than dogged consistency, which is why Clinic, the Liverpool quartet that's released four albums since their feted 2000 debut, Internal Wrangler, are so peculiarly frustrating. Clinic never falter, never radically alter their blueprint, and parsing the hair's-breadth differences between their records can seem unrewarding. The band's strengths—a clenched, eerie nervousness always an inch from collapse; a fondness for punctuating garage roil with a reedy melodica, like a stoic ghost—were best exercised on 2002's Walking With Thee, but only the devout have kept track since. Still, Clinic albums are not identical. Each has its mode, some modest extrapolation of the band's formula hewed to for 30-odd minutes.Internal Wrangler was a swampy, primal prototype; Walking With Thee rose, keening, above the murk; Winchester Cathedral was warm and bloated where its predecessors were chilly and terse; Visitations guiltily dirtied its guitars and refocused on the groove. The albums were moods, facets, the same friend on different days.

Do It! finds our friend unusually relaxed. "Memories," "Tomorrow," and "Shopping Bag" feature plenty of frontman Ade Blackburn's lockjaw chanting, which serves, in various timbres, as the meat of every Clinic album. But single "Free Not Free" softens tense Visitations-style fuzz with twinkling xylophones and an unusually gentle vocal; "The Witch (Made to Measure)" revisits the piston-like drums of Winchester Cathedral's "Country Mile," but atop them, Blackburn is looser, less frenetic. The calm is intriguing—and the record peaks with "Mary & Eddie," almost sensual save for the shattered-glass sonics—but Do It! is the first Clinic record that seems assembled from bits of old Clinic records, its personality the result of combined ideas rather than new ones. As such it could be their worst, but this band's curve is so flat that it's exhausting just trying to place it. See? Frustrating.

Clinic play the Music Hall of Williamsburg May 8

 
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