Liking a band for more than three albums is getting harder these days, as many fall apart by that point. Even when groups do make it, most stop being musically interesting or otherwise start sucking. Clinic almost did that: Their third album, Winchester Cathedral (Domino, 2004), wasn't bad but didn't find the band progressing. Their distorted Farfisa started to sound routine and cliché; their trance-inducing rhythms begat yawning.
Clinic's recently released full-length, Visitations (Domino), finds the Liverpool quartet back in form. All the elements that make Clinic's unique sound are still there the organ and the beat, fuzzed-out guitar, dubbish bass but they sound just a bit better this time around. "Family" starts the album on a vaguely major note, a krauty stomp with a snaky blues riff that devolves all over the song. The album ends quietly and morosely with the title track, hushed strumming, hand drums, and melancholy keyboard building into a sinister waltz over broken glass. In between, the band's economical songwriting creates an overwhelming sense of eeriness within the confines of three-minute pop songs. When they really hit their stride, on "Gideon," for instance, they create a palpable feeling of dread that almost manifests physically by the track's end. Even on less heavy tunes such as the garagey "Tusk" and the vaguely funky "Animal/Human," Ade Blackburn's taut and desperate vocals make sure nothing goes down too easy.
For a band to make it past number three is hard enough. For a band to pull itself out of a rut and create a stunning fourth album is outstanding. I don't know if they're still wearing surgical gowns onstage, but they needn't bother with the gimmick when they perform as part of Noise Pop. (Gene Bae)
With Earlimart, Sea Wolf, and the Mumlers
March 3, 9 p.m., $17
628 Divisadero, SF