If nothing else, the English band Clinic deserves a seat on that upcoming commercial flight into space (you know, the one Lance Bass got denied) for sounding pretty much nothing like Radiohead. No offense to Coldplay and Elbow and South (and Starsailor and Lowgold), but the wide-screen hand-wringing the U.K.'s been taking warm baths in for the past couple of years has begun to lose a little something in the translation. Maybe it's the end-of-days uneasiness--the scary kind, not the chin-stroking kind--that's hanging over us Americans like a fat London fog, because nothing from over there is sounding so right over here as the just-released Walking With Thee, Clinic's bewitching, occasionally terrifying second album.
Like that prickly apprehension itself, Clinic is hard to nail down as a group, as brow-furrowingly ambiguous as it is teeth-grindingly specific. Like its debut, last year's aptly titled Internal Wrangler, Walking With Thee is patched together from surf-music riffraff, gnarled, post-punk guitar debris and a case of reverb the band must've pinched from Lee Perry's special stash. Yet no matter how cleanly delineated the songs' elements can be--and they really can be, as on opener "Harmony," which begins with a sprinkle of totally tubular Mike Oldfield bell tones and a shiver of cracked melodica before slithering into a Neu!-worthy groove--listening to the record is like being strapped into a bullet train speeding through some burned-out warehouse strip you've only seen in your dreams (or on CNN). There's a forward momentum to "Pet Eunoch," which boasts slashing guitars that may as well be Rocket from the Crypt's, and "Sunlight Bathes Our Home," which climaxes in a one-finger guitar solo ? and the Mysterians would claim, that's like the opposite of the Radiohead school's agonized loitering--the opposite, really, of anything even remotely comforting at the moment.
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That's not to say that Kid A and Amnesiac don't have their queasy passages--even "Fitter Happier," from OK Computer, released back when the mailman didn't wear rubber gloves, is a little creepy if you play it late enough. But Thom Yorke seems to view his music as a way out of the abyss, that if you wear your headphones really close, all those layers of sound will somehow protect you from the monsters he's singing about. Clinic doesn't leave room in its music for that comfort zone; it's like the blip of a far-off star, cold and lonely and harder to hear the more you listen.