Clinic is a psychedelic post-punk band from Liverpool, England. They began under the moniker of Pure Morning, releasing Two Inch Helium Buddah in 1996 before debuting as Clinic with 2000’s Internal Wrangler. The record found some underground success and netted the band a spot as an opener on tour with Radiohead. They remained prolific throughout the 2000’s with seven full albums and two EPs in 12 years which led to a multitude of festival performances as well as another supporting tour, this time alongside indie darlings, Arcade Fire. After 2012’s Free Reign however, the band announced a sabbatical which wouldn’t end until they returned to the stage four years later with John Cale at a tribute show for The Velvet Underground. Now, seven years after their last release, Clinic is finally back with Wheeltappers and Shunters.
Instrumentally, the album is just as impressive as ever. Brian Campbell’s bass guitar sounds fantastic holding down the rhythms of cuts like the opener, “Laughing Cavalier,” or the closer, “New Equations.” His tone is thick and the melodic lines which he discovers function perfectly as the foundation for the unique and head-spinning sound which Clinic is able to achieve.
On top of this, Ade Blackburn does great work as a frontman, bringing each song to life with a set of spellbinding performances which vary greatly from track to track. On “Ferryboat of the Mind,” he’s cold, distant, and almost omnipresent. In “D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E,” on the other hand, Blackburn brings an unnerving energy and excitement which feels almost alien when filtered through his strange sound. He’s incredibly dynamic, and his work is a large part of the album’s success.
Of course, the performance is made all the better by the jarring, poetic lyricism on nearly every cut. “Mirage,” uses repetition and leans heavily into the band’s more punk roots while “Flying Fish,” takes advantage of a relatively simple rhyme scheme to achieve a more singable feel. Different still, “Congratulations,” strings together a multitude of evocative but borderline meaningless phrases to inspire an attitude more so than tell a story. The lyrics, while often difficult to grasp in a literal sense, go a long way toward crafting the alienated aesthetic that makes this record stand out.
All of this is helmed by near perfect production. All of the producing work was done by the band themselves and that entangling of the creating and polishing process bleeds through every second. From the swirling whispers of “Complex,” to the raucous cacophony of “Rubber Bullets,” this LP consistently builds bewildering waves of sound which are then split in half by striking melodies.
The clear highlight of the album, however, is the absolutely engulfing atmosphere which is created by a combination of all these elements. The most obvious example of this is certainly the bizarre and unpredictable interlude, “Tigers,” but it’s also present in tracks like “Rejoice,” and my favorite cut on the album, “Be Yourself/Year of the Sadist.” The music creates a visual almost instantly, and it makes the album as a whole into a unique experience.
All in all, this record is fantastic. Nearly every aspect, from the songwriting to the performances and through the production, is perfectly executed, resulting in a record that warrants multiple listens. Beyond this, a wide instrumental pallet, strong lead guitar work, and perfect pacing makes the LP just that much more listenable.
Wheeltappers and Shunters is a perfectly crafted piece of psychedelic punk with a surprise waiting around every corner.
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