I’ve tried to avoid it, looked into ways of talking around it, hunted for different angles, prayed desperately for the fresh twist, but there’s no denying: if they mean to go on as they started, Clockcleaner will be haunted with Amphetamine Reptile, Touch & Go, mid-late 1980s underground pigfuck etc comparisons until the end of their time on this Earth. And it’s no bad thing, necessarily – especially as that patch of the Earth hasn’t been farmed for a while now, the welcome reappearance of David Yow and the birth of Pissed Jeans aside – but it’s got to chafe after the fiftieth comparison.
There are things to love about Clockcleaner: John A Sharkey III’s guitar, which is coated with brain-shuddering delay, so every note redoubles on itself, shuddering like a metal spine caught in an elevator’s innards; Karen Horne’s bass, pitched perfectly between guttural body response and rhythmic bedrock. I could do without the ham angst of some of Sharkey’s vox, but ultimately it’s a fair trade-off – and subtlety was never this genre’s real skills base, anyway. I find Babylon Rules works better when Clockcleaner turn down the pace and increase the implied threat: both “When My Ship Comes In” and “Out of the City” prowl magisterially, and Sharkey’s guitar playing hints at all kinds of outs for the group’s future, coming close to blasting off into freedom.
If Clockcleaner are problematic, it’s because they never really follow through on the escape routes they gesture toward throughout the record. I’m not trying to encourage anyone to ‘go improv’ (because in this context it’d be ridiculous) or to get behind the free-rock wheel, but the best groups of Clockcleaner’s ilk – particularly Australian predecessors feedtime and King Snake Roost – balanced primal grind with form disruption/destruction, something Babylon Rules only deals out in passing. They could stand to get looser, to fly by the seat of their collective pants, to try pissing in the wind…Who knows?