There are two things you used to always be able to count on when it came to Liverpool's Clinic: 1. If its an even-numbered year, you can bet they've either released or are about to release a new album that year, and 2. Their new album will sound pretty much exactly as you expected it to sound, with a few subtle changes here and there. That first one still holds true, but over the last couple releases, the second one has not.
Clinic's brand of dark, artsy post-punk received somewhat of a pop injection on their last album, 2010's 'Bubblegum," an album that could almost be described as "catchy," at times even "beautiful." On the aptly titled (once again) 'Free Reign,' they move into new territory yet again, with an album that is, without a doubt, their most tripped-out yet, and one that could be argued is their most creative and consistent since their 2000 full-length debut, 'Internal Wrangler.'
While their roots in Joy Division and Suicide are still very apparent, openers "Misty" and "See Saw" find Clinic mining Spacemen 3-type droning atmospherics as well, and to good effect, especially when combined with the propulsive beats and haunting vocals. This blissful-yet-spaced-out vibe never really lets up throughout the album's 40 minutes, resulting in a listening experience that is ready-made for late night headphone journeys.
The near-epic "Miss You" is another good example, with swirling keyboards and synths intertwining with a repeating, circular guitar lead that, altogether, tickles some musical funnybone in the brain, sending at least this listener off into a euphoric hypnotized state that I wasn't ready to come down from. Good thing the chill, jazzy "For the Season" provides the perfect bridge back to the deep innerspace of the final three tracks.
After seven albums, Clinic have proven to be one of the most consistent bands in modern music, and 'Free Reign' is quite possibly their most adventurous to date. Those looking for the more aggressive punk vibe of their early EP's and albums may be disappointed, but anyone who's open to a bit of psychedelia with their eerie post-punk should have no trouble appreciating Clinic's latest. Maybe there's a new guarantee now to replace the old one about them always sounding the same: Every album this band releases will be a strong, worthwhile listen.
And 'Free Reign' makes an excellent case for being one of their strongest and most worthwhile yet.