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Clinic - Visitations

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Artist: Clinic

Album: Visitations

Label: Domino

Review date: Jan. 24, 2007

It's a testament to how unusual Clinic sounds that they sometimes get described as a surf or garage band. It's not easy to describe what they do. Stripped down for sure, fuzz guitar and organ are fundamental to many of their numbers. But Clinic doesn't generate heat. Even when they play fast, the momentum seems beside the point. The wide open spaces of dub and the murky mystery of early R.E.M. inform their approach just as much. And they drain the warmth out of those sounds, too. Their best songs are coated like trees after an ice storm, living things encased in brittleness. Clinic holds an affection for bare-bones music, but what comes out is anything but straightforward. They might be minimalists, but they aren't primitivists.

Visitations sports some bolder guitar riffs than earlier efforts. It opens with pounding tom-toms and slide guitar on "Family," while the song "Tusk" is an unadorned buzzsaw. "If You Could Read Your Mind" has a twangy lead somewhere between the James Bond theme and "Lucifer Sam." Still, this doesn't feel like a guitar record, or much of a change at all for that matter. Ade Blackburn's voice remains so odd and mesmerizing that even the bluntest tracks become a bit sleepy and distant. No matter how much bluster is behind him, he inserts a shiver into the proceedings.

There's another shiver throughout Visitations. Someone appears to have a zither obsession. It's there between the chanting and bells of "Animal," before the bleak verse gives way to a wah-wah grind. It reappears as a psychedelic wash on "Gideon." By the time it shows up in "If You Could Read Your Mind," it's fervently sweeping up and down. It's hard to say if it's an intentional motif, or if there was just a zither lying around. Clinic builds their songs out of familiar progressions and rhythms, but it's that unexpected flourish that makes their stuff work. A rolling fuzztone number like "Children of Kellogg" abruptly halts and turns soft rock (and even the loud part features xylophone taps). They've been saddled with the gimmick of wearing surgical masks on stage, but it's just as well that they cover up any smirks.

Clinic has never ventured far from the three-minute song, and listening to any short clip, you could confuse them for a pop band, which might explain the high expectations of their early years. Ten years on, they shown no willingness to become decipherable. Blackburn can croon, but he doesn't emote. His voice is a lot like the melodica that adorns their quiet songs - reedy and high and toylike. They can make the biggest gestures sound small. That flair for the undramatic has produced yet another fragile and entrancing record.

By Ben Donnelly

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