First, you're tickled, eased in by a surprisingly gentle, reverent string of notes. But just as you get comfortable, fuzzy guitars steam forward, screaming like a freight train, chased suddenly by Ade Blackburn's sinister vocals. Still, his voice is somehow pleasant. Coming up for air during this song called "Memories," you realize that Do It!—the fifth and most recent album from Clinic—isn't just another record from the Liverpool quartet.
Historically, Clinic has seemed defined by its own consistency: The band's icy Pixies-meets-Velvet Underground freak-outs came with a built-in sound that was sonically daring from the start. There have, in fact, been very few turns since its highly praised debut, Internal Wrangler. But curiosity finally led the band to some pretty mood-altering and course-changing music, and that mentality shapes Do It!
"We just wanted to do at least one [record] with songs that were a bit brighter, in an almost tongue-in-cheek kind of way," says Blackburn, calling from a tour stop in Minneapolis. "We've kind of reached this stage where, instead of always thinking of things as gray, you just want something that is simpler."
Gone are the band's traditional verse-chorus structures, replaced by gentler, melodic interludes and experimental soundscapes. Delicacy, the songs suggest, can be just as intense as a barrage of aggressive hooks. The result is not only the band's most spacious, hypnotic and spooky record but also its most listenable and playful. Breezy psychedelic lounge, strummed love songs and slow, soulful waltzes meet Clinic's typical art-punk aesthetic. Clinic effectively paints with colors other than dark and darker.
"It was inspiring to use new sounds rather than just relying on distortion or voice," Blackburn continues. "We went for an easier sound. We could do things with tremolo on a guitar, violin, harmonium. Those types of things lend themselves more to some of those quieter songs, the acoustic songs."
Those softer sounds give their counterparts an added dimension, making the louder moments now seem much more raw in comparison. The lyrics are Blackburn's most personal to date, too. There's an emphasis on new beginnings, as Blackburn charts how relationships change over time. The text shifts from mood to mood, and the musical surroundings evolve, reflecting their lyrical counterparts. "Mary and Eddie," for instance, starts as an acoustic-based ballad, but it explodes into mayhem and corrodes into doom. Blues-y romps like "Tomorrow" sit with angular, slicing dance-floor grooves like "The Witch (Made to Measure)," and "Corpus Christi" sounds like early Pink Floyd with a demonic groove. The high-octane surf punk of "Shopping Bag" erupts into free-jazz exploration, and the circus-like finale of "Coda" turns to pure retro garage-rock bliss.
Largely for its musical mélange, some critics have called Do It! a combination of the best moments of Clinic's career. But Blackburn sees things differently. "Now especially, because not many bands get to their fifth album, people seem really determined to compare it to other things," he says. "I think it's something new in itself."
Clinic plays Do It! in its entirety during a two-set show at Cat's Cradle Monday, May 26. Music starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $13-$15.