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Free Reign Julian Marszalek , November 12th, 2012 15:46

With a singular output that now totals seven albums over a fifteen-year existence, it's more than a little easy to succumb to temptation and take Clinic for granted. Existing outside the dictates of fashion, the Liverpool psychdelicists' steady output has seen them grow from the North West's answer to The 13th Floor Elevators into a band whose cosmic explorations have moved away from the claustrophobia that was their calling card and into broader yet no less mind-expanding territories.

If 2010's Bubblegum found the band compromising their vision with the introduction of an outside producer for the first time, Free Reign is an album that lives up to its name as the band wrestle back creative control. The result is a collection of songs that eschew their predecessor's acoustic dabbling and cheerier disposition to return to the sense of dread and suffocation that made them so attractive when they first threw out a barbed bomb in the shape of the ever-wonderful, 'IPC Sub-Editors Dictate Our Youth'.

As evidenced by the throbbing pulses of 'Misty', Clinic have moved into the realm of processed beats and sequencers while using guitars to colour the spaces that are left in between. It's a sound that demands attention and one that serves notice on the quartet's intention over the remaining eight tracks. Though still occupying the ground they've claimed as their own, this is a band flexing its creative muscle with an element of surprise that most bands tend to lose thus far into their career.

Clinic's trademarks sounds of swirling organs and Ade Blackburn's almost paranoid ramblings remain very much in place but the added flourishes of squelching modulations and metronomic rhythms widen their sound; witness the hilariously-titled 'Seemless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)' wherein Clinic's sense of menace practically drips from the speakers and almost physically manifests itself. Similarly, 'King Kong' becomes the kind of musical mantra that could easily induce a trance.

'For The Season' sees Clinic take a sideway step into (un) easy listening as they snuggle themselves comfortably between Stereolab and Plone. This is the kind of music to soundtrack your space age bachelor pad, assuming that at 6pm you prefer loading a bowl rather than shaking a cocktail. Elsewhere, the plain sinister 'See Saw' sees Clinic making some return to their original M.O. thanks to some squelching guitars underpinned by some insistent, nagging beats and topped off with ethereal blasts of melodica.

Free Reign is an album finds Clinic pushing themselves in directions that wouldn't have been considered years ago and it's to their credit that they possess both the will and imagination to do so. Crucially, Free Reign will satisfy both the long-term observer and those who hop on and off Clinic's long journey into strange. Whichever camp you fall into, that's something you really don't want to take for granted.