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Clinic:: Visitations (Album Review)

At their best, Clinic’s songs are puzzles that, despite being made of simple pieces, are nigh-on impossible to figure out. The band goes deeper into their mysterious, noisy blankness on Visitations, which they’ve described as a “party album.” Though it actually seems better suited for a bad trip or a séance, there’s no doubt that this is some of Clinic’s most consistently exciting work since Internal Wrangler (the band reunited with Gareth Jones, who mixed Wrangler, for this album). And while there aren’t any drastic changes here, by the time the surging opening track, “Family,” literally ends with a bang, it’s clear that the men of Clinic are back to their gleefully cryptic selves. The band doesn’t spend much time with the extremes of their sound — “Tusk,” a fiery rave-up, and the torchy title track are as far as it goes for Clinic’s thrashy and reflective sides. Instead, they delve into their weird middle ground with spectacularly odd results, like “If You Could Read Your Mind”‘s gypsy psych-rock and “Gideon”‘s spaghetti Western punk. Zithers, autoharps, theremins, and percussion of all kinds give Visitations a creaky, antiquated feel, especially on the evil nursery rhyme folk of “Jigsaw Man”; even when Clinic goes acoustic, they’ve got a lock groove of bongos and rattlesnake rhythms powering them. They also craft some strikingly surreal audio collages: “Animal Human” begins with haunted house doo-wop incantations, then segues to a rumbling bassline and boom-chick-a-wow guitars straight out of a ’70s porn soundtrack. “Children of Kellog” starts with a flourish of brass before moving to a lumbering groove sprinkled with xylophones, then an explosion-like gong sounds and the song morphs into a pretty slow jam with sawing sound effects in the background. In fact, there are only a couple of songs on Visitations that feel close to predictable. The languidly strummy “Paradise” sounds almost exactly like “Kimberley” from 1998’s Cement Mixer EP, and “Harvest”‘s insistent bass, tribal beat, and garbled vocals are so typically Clinic that they make the song too safe of a choice for Visitations’ single — especially since “The Second Line,” the song that made their name in the first place, sounded like nothing else at the time. Overall, though, this dark, knotty album shows that Clinic’s muse is back. Visitations may not be as immediate as Walking with Thee or Winchester Cathedral, but that’s exactly what makes it intriguing — and a welcome return to form. (Heather Phares)