Has it really been seven years since Clinic was last seen creeping around the turntable? It appears so. After the band’s last outing, which saw them collaborating with Oneohtrix’ Daniel Lopatin, they return to a more familiar form, riding the raw snap of their familiar spooked psych-blues once more. The title of Wheeltappers and Shunters is likely lost on most US audiences, as it references a mid-70s British Variety series that hasn’t aged particularly well. The jocular program represents a time that, while often reminisced as the golden age of culture, actually rounds out to a cringing normalization of racial stereotype caught on tape and misogyny run rampant. The show is essentially the UK version of Hee-Haw (minus the country music) as far as I can tell, and as much as that’s likely a fond familial memory for some here, it’s as much a cultural black mark for everyone else.
The band works the album into a kind of inverse Village Green Preservation Society, holding up the sunny charms of the past to the magnifying lens of 2019 and looking for the dirt in the cracks. As much as both the UK and US have found sweeping waves of nostalgic nationalism in the wake of MAGA/Brexit culture, this is a necessary knock to the heads of the rally crowds looking to hearken back to some sort of perceived greatest generations. They pin their body politic to some progressive visions of the Clinic sound as well – stretching out to the ethereal embers on “Flying Fish,” and mining menacing prog on the fizzing closer “New Equations (at the Copacabana)”. The band’s bubbling through lava and lye on “Ferryboat of the Mind,” while they return to the classic pendulum swing swagger of their old days on “Congratulations.”
The record is indeed a dark depiction of nostalgia – panicked, preserved, and packaged for a future generation to find and ponder. They don’t look back on the transgressions of their predecessors lightly, just as our own heirs should not. While (somewhat ironically) fans nostalgic for classic Clinic will find something to love here, the band’s fusing much of the drive from their more experimental later years with the propulsive pop that locked ‘em on your college dial. It’s a new chapter in the history of the psych swamp and a rather welcomed return.
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