Chronically at the edge of accessibility, the masked men of Liverpool’s Clinic don’t seem to mind their not-quite-mass-appeal. Sure, they’ve opened for bands like Arcade Fire and Radiohead, as well as releasing six well-received LPs. But Ade Blackburn and compatriots also continue to wear surgeon’s masks, adorn album covers with trippy spirals, and release music in the form of a “glow-in-the-dark, cosmic flying disc.” On their seventh album, Free Reign, the psychedelia is looser and sloppier, seemingly even less interested in grabbing that crossover spotlight than usual.
The bass-heavy, lumbering psych raga of “Misty” locks into place, squeals of guitar noise emulating the birds fluttering above a slow boat ride down a sweaty jungle river, Blackburn lying on his back and singing softly to himself. Following it with “See Saw”, though, immediately disrupts the flow, a messy, meandering clarinet honking its way into the midst of an otherwise stomping kraut groove. The clarinet makes its way into a few other tracks, effectively fitting into the shambles of “Cosmic Radiation” and matching the slow balladry of “For the Season”, but here it detracts from the precision.
The enforced distance of those barely face-nullifying masks continues into the lyrics, “Seamless Boogie Woogie” hinting at some sort of relationship warmth, but hiding just enough to keep things weird. Blackburn’s discussion of “a house that we built / we built to the brim / on multi-colored stilts / with your love” sounds comforting, but hints of claustrophobia keen in on the constant spiraling rhythm. Mellow, nuanced drifting is par for the course, no track hitting upon a melody or hook that can carry beyond this sort of psychedelic airiness. The masks are still up on Free Reign, and the hints at human emotion lying behind them aren’t strong enough to attempt to pry in.
Essential Tracks: “Misty”, “For the Season”