Clinic – Internal Wrangler

Internal Wrangler

First let me express my complete frustration in finding this album. I’ve been looking for it since November. But since record labels are bastards, they decide to release some of the best stuff around only in England (I suppose I could have ordered it, but that would require time, money, and a certain amount of ambition that I just don’t have). Second, for those of you who have already read numerous reviews praising this band and album, I apologize: I will not be the critic who puts his credibility on the line by criticizing this album (chalk that up to either a lack of spine or the talent of this band). Rather, I will sing their praises and demand that you go on a four-month journey (much like my own) to find this record.
Unlike some bands, Clinic are a somewhat fun/easy band to describe. After all, there’s lots of ways this music can be talked about (heaping adjectives upon it is the tried and true method). But let’s start with the band shall we? The band is a four-piece from England with decidedly lo-fi punk tendencies, but, as this album attests, their understanding of music, melody and sounds far transcends their lo-fi brethren. Maybe if they didn’t use the same old instruments (guitar, bass, drums, voice and just a little bit of organ for good measure), maybe if singer Ade Blackburn didn’t sound like the unholy union of Thom Yorke and an alien (that is of course assuming that you don’t think Thom Yorke sounds suspiciously like an alien in the first place), and maybe if this album didn’t come off as compressed genius I could criticize it. Maybe if Clinic didn’t fit more violence, schizophrenia and beauty into 30 minutes of a debut album than most groups do in 10 albums then I could criticize it. But as it stands, I can’t.
The album opens with “Voodoo Wop,” a 1:44 blast of dense percussion and bass, complete with insect buzzes and chopped melody. It’s a fitting intro, though it hardly prepares one for what follows. “The Return of Evil Bill” rides an organ (I believe it’s an organ, it sounds for all the world like a horn) hook and Blackburn’s psychotic vocal ramblings. He might be telling a story, he might just be crazy, but either way it doesn’t matter: its the way he delivers a mess of fragile syllables and percussive stutters that somehow form a melody. It has all the mainstays of modern music (verse chorus verse, bridge, etc…), but somehow manages to sound different from anything you’ve ever heard before in a good way. The title track contains clickity percussion and more of Blackburn’s utterances, as well as a guitar line that inexplicably sounds like something out of an old western film.
“The Second Line” epitomizes the band, as it basically contains all of the elements that make them unique. A silky smooth guitar fades away, letting Blackburn’s percussive vocal rants take over the track. To this day, I’m not even sure if he’s singing words or just using his unique voice to create sounds that get under your skin. It’s the most wonderfully contagious screw-off track I’ve ever heard. It’s also so calculated and wonderful that I feel bad calling it a screw-off track. “C.Q.” follows, and its wonderful, hissing punk stomp recalls the Sex Pistols, if they were literate and had more skill than luck. “T.K.” follows a horn-led melody (again, I am guessing that is a horn) to a big (sort of) chorus. It might even be an anthem, that is if you could understand what Blackburn was saying.
“Earth Angel” slows the pace substantially. It blissfully floats along on a sample of a wave hitting a beach. Suddenly Blackburn’s voice is all soft, tethered tenderness, a far cry from his exasperated punk yell of a few minutes ago. “Distortion” follows suit: Blackburn sings over a gorgeous organ and some light percussion (Blackburn finishes the song humming one of the only lines I can make out on the album: “free of distortions”). So what’s the logical move after two angelic semi-ballads: an instrumental punk number. Of course, that’s what “Hippy Death Suite” is, a cluttered mess of guitars and piano. The album ends marvelously with the lullaby (no joke!) “Goodnight Georgie,” one of the softest, sweetest perfectly constructed ballads in recent memory.
So that’s it. I’m all out of adjectives. No longer can I heap ass-kissing praise upon this amazing band. Let me just assure you that the songs I didn’t talk about (namely “2nd Foot Stomp” and “2/4”) are similarly amazing. Even the short “filler” sounds incredible, both adding to the context of the album and standing as a finely constructed piece of music. If this doesn’t blow you away, you very well might be dead. Clinic have quickly elevated themselves to a select clique of bands (Dismemberment Plan, Modest Mouse, Juno, etc…) that are amazing not because they are drastically innovative or special, but because they make incredible music that features of perfect blend of reverence for their past and outlook for the future. I’m all out of adjectives. You’re out of excuses. Find this album.