reel in the quaker

Clinic is shaping up to be a band rather like the Fall (although nowhere near as prolific, nor as volatile), in that what seems at first to be a very particular, limited sound actually proves to be quite fertile ground. Within its spectrum of outmoded rhythms, pawnshop instruments, and a sort of steampunk/surrealistic aesthetic, the band keeps finding new variations, new ways to tweak its handful of preferred sounds, structures, and moods. Their latest album Do It! is a good example: while neither “Shopping Bag” nor “Mary and Eddie” seem to depart that far from prior Clinic fare, each in its own way adds a little something to the mix.

“Mary and Eddie” is more obvious about this: while Clinic have occasionally evoked a sort of pagan faux-folk sound, the melodica-and-percussion opening (which reminds me of Syd Barrett’s “The Scarecrow”) and acoustic basis of the track almost sounds like the sort of thing that might have featured in the soundtrack of The Wicker Man…except for the odd synth blurps in the background, the distorted electric guitar…and the foghorn in lieu of bass guitar. But the modal feel of the tune, built on an open fifth that occasionally alternates with a similar interval a whole step below, typifies that sort of style despite the amped-up intensity of attack the song develops.

“Shopping Bag” is a more typical Clinic sound, in this case the revved-up raver, its energy curiously contained rather than released. The chromatic diversions are the aural equivalent of a train tipsily risking derailment by taking a curve far too fast, and before and during the final verse a deranged sax seemingly full of helium quacks wildly in the background. Yet there’s something deliberate about the song, about the idea of abandon rather than abandon itself.

I think that tension between a certain distance, which might be irony, or which might be either a form of rock’n’roll neoclassicism or a postmodern take on same, and the looseness and uninhibitedness that characterizes the rock’n’roll tropes Clinic play with, is what gives the band its unique and pungently hermetic flavor.

Clinic “Mary and Eddie” (Do It! 2008)
Clinic “Shopping Bag” (Do It! 2008)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “reel in the quaker

  1. Anonymous

    So not like The Fall at all, then?

    I disagree with your use of the word ‘postmodern’, but would fight to the death for your right to use it.

    Maybe not to the death, actually. Maybe until I break a nail.

  2. 2fs

    Well, what I said was that Clinic were like the Fall only “in that what seems at first to be a very particular, limited sound actually proves to be quite fertile ground” – not in any other way. So, uh, not sure what you mean by “not like the Fall at all.” I do notice that both of us are accidentally rhyming, however (“sound/ground,” “Fall/all”), for whatever that’s worth.

    Are you disagreeing with any use of the word “postmodern,” or only in its applicability here? Because if the second, I’d argue that that tension is nearly a defining trait. I don’t think one has to be a postmodernist to display postmodern traits (that is, one doesn’t have to wave its flag): it’s part of the texture of the times, in this case the consequence of pervasive media compelling people to question the possibility of sincerely doing what’s so often been done poorly, campily, or just plain in appallingly poor taste. Can you rock out when some dude with an unironic mullet and mustache rocks out? For real? Maybe – but it’s certainly harder. Unknowing what you know is like unringing a bell: you can’t really do it, you can only sort of find a way around it, either by thinking too hard or diligently not thinking at all.

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