Cryptic Clinic

CLINIC with KINGBURY MANX at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (March 31). $13. 416-532-7383. Rating: NNNNNyou'd expect a bit.


CLINIC with KINGBURY MANX at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (March 31). $13. 416-532-7383.

Rating: NNNNN

you’d expect a bit of mysteryfrom a group whose members wear surgical masks onstage, and Clinic deliver.The faceless Liverpool quartet has taken great pains to cultivate an air of ambiguity around their music over the course of two records. The medical getups are a good start, but it’s in their music that Clinic are most puzzling.

The group’s twitchy, propulsive new-wave-damaged art pop lifts from everything and nothing, taking swaths of influence from 60s garage punk, psych rock and the motorik thump of Can as well as disco and free jazz.

The members of Radiohead, particularly Thom Yorke, were sufficiently impressed to give Clinic the nod as one of their favourite bands and take them out on tour. The Radiohead touch helped turn Icelanders Sigur Ros into a brand name, so could the anointing of Clinic prove equally successful?

“No,” Clinic bassist Brian Campbell snorts from San Francisco. “The weirdest thing about the whole Radiohead effect is that people expect something specific.

“That band has this golden touch, where they can say something’s good and everybody believes them. That’s great, but it has nothing to do with reality. People come to us looking for one thing, and then we let them down.”

The group’s new Walking With Thee album should only confuse matters further.

More streamlined than 2000’s Internal Wrangler, the concise, unsettling disc is a lesson in editing. Songs are whittled down to their bare essentials and, despite rarely creeping beyond the three-minute mark, still cram in enough twists and turns to keep fans guessing.

“Your basic Clinic song is really schizophrenic,” Campbell confirms. “It might start in 2/4 time and a minute later the whole structure of the song will shift. We change keys and suddenly become a different band. It takes us months to write songs, because we analyze every bit. That’s why the songs are so short. We’re making sure the listener can’t switch off at any point.

“We basically recorded the record twice. We have a home studio now, so before we went to the proper fancy place, we did a version of the record at home so that we could play it to the engineers. We wanted it to sound the same, only better. One person’s idea of punk or whatever could be different than another’s, and we aren’t really interested in arguing.”

Part of the charm of the tunes on Walking With Thee is their organic shapelessness. After touring almost nonstop since Internal Wrangler came out, Clinic still manage to sound rough and unkempt without ever falling apart. Forcing your drummer to play the piano can do that.

“Someone would have a great idea that a certain song needed a flute part, so we’d stop work on that song while I went out, bought a flute and spent the next three weeks learning how to play it,” laughs Campbell. “On the song Come Into Our Room, we had our drummer play piano. He’d never really touched one in his life.

“We’re not professional musicians, and if there are little mistakes it adds a bit of charm. The easiest thing would have been to pay someone $200 to come in and play the piano, but what’s the point?”mattg@nowtoronto.com

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