Only long after the messiahs have left the building and the doctrines have been chiseled into stone tablature do churches get erected. At best, they offer shelter and trippy stained glass for the flocks and fanbases that missed the original rapture, the masses hoping but to touch the hem of the vintage concert tee. Fortified against the heathens of technology that have “ruined music,” true believers still wait around for ’60s rock to return, and infight as to whether the 45 single offered transubstantiation or if the inner gatefold was scripture instead. Could God be seen in 2:30, or did it take a sidelong freak-out for the divine to manifest?
You can hear the heart of rock ‘n’ roll getting resuscitated in the hands and heads of Liverpool’s Clinic. There’s even a telltale cardiograph bleeping at the start of their third full-length, Winchester Cathedral. The quartet have studied all the esoteric texts: the garage sides culled on the Pebbles and Chocolate Soup for Diabetics comps, the production techniques of Joe Meek, the spaghetti-spinning instrumentation of Ennio Morricone. Every new song of theirs could be three old ones, though, and while their drummer can pound out four on the floor, their organ player still can’t squeeze out that 97th tear.
“Circle of Fifths” does a neat trick by meshing Jack Nietzsche’s bouncy piano from the Stones’ Aftermath with the 13th Floor Elevators’ boopity-boop bassline. But rather than the too obvious electric jug and cringe-worthy acid dogma, singer Ade Blackford puts plastic melodica to his M*A*S*H-masked mouth or else enunciates like Thom Yorke with lockjaw. For “Falstaff,” he makes his damned melodica hum “Midnight Cowboy” over a mushy incantation of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
Mimicking the serpentine melodies that Augustus Pablo used to play east of the River Nile, the instrument shows precisely where the Clinic’s pyramid meets the eye-conography, reinforcing the hokey Egyptology indulged here. Mysteriously, they leave behind the gimmicky toy’s Eastern modality as they set the controls for “Vertical Take Off in Egypt.” And when not so concerned with doing mashups, Clinic ask “WWJD?” realizing that he would mix the guitars way over the voice on “WDYYB.” Straight ahead, parked in the garage—here’s where their craft really takes off.
Down and out in Santa Cruz, the brotherhood of bros Comets on Fire have built a driftwood altar to a color-coded trinity of rock: Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer. (And Hawkwind’s Space Ritual and Zep’s II make for a killer pentagram). For their third album, Blue Cathedral, they even pay alms to their newest benefactor, Sub Pop, with singer Ethan Miller’s ragged mewl an imitation of Mudhoney’s Mark Arm circa “In and Out of Grace”—which makes sense, as Comets do ask Jesus to take them to a higher place. Nix the spoo-dee-ooo-dee wine, motherfucker; these guys slobber about that sacrosanct whiskey.
With Ben Chasney, a certified folkie with his Six Organs of Admittance project, fully signed on and plugged in as second electric guitar, the interplay between him and Miller is reverent to those invoked above while displaying a felicity that Leigh Stephens never had (see the nimble “Pussy Foot the Duke”) and a ferocity that David Gilmour often eschewed (see the frenzied “The Bee and the Cracking Egg”). “Brotherhood of the Harvest” could even be one of those playful codas Tony Ionni would slip in at the end of a heavy Sabbath song.
The trick to their aural freak-out is not too different from those in the past; it hides in the arcane black box manned by Noel Harmonson. The echoplex, with its Möbius strip of tape loop, warps the guitars and yowls like parallel sheets of Mylar and sheets of acid, focusing the entire band into ray-gun pulses that match the pounding of Utrillo Belcher. Twisted together, Comets flap the flannel in a way not seen since the glory days of Charles Peterson’s Jesus Christ poses.