Beginning its career with a formidable set of EPs, Clinic emerged pre-wired for critical acclaim, with a visual aesthetic (surgical masks as negation of pop-star idolatry) that was as fascinatingly nerd-appealing as its musical aesthetic. Not so much post-rock as meta-rock, the Liverpool quartet's 2000 debut album, Internal Wrangler, seemed less about the band than about the precedents—early American roots music, The Velvet Underground's first two albums, The Beatles' meticulous studio psychedelia, Can's motorik grooves—that made an entity like it possible in the first place. No wonder Radiohead jumped to take the band on tour.
Unfortunately, at least in the U.S., where Clinic has had to compete with an ever-growing number of new trends and tastemakers, time hasn't been so kind to the band. Where 2002's Walking With Thee softened the darker, more sinister edges that made Wrangler so exciting, 2004's pallid Winchester Cathedral yanked Clinic's teeth and cast its surgical getups in a new, unfortunately literal light: With scarcely a novel idea left in its arsenal, Clinic had flatlined into irrelevance.
No surprise, then, that Visitations finds the band returning to form—or perhaps more aptly, formlessness. After impressing with a strong pair of opening tracks—the grimy, post-punk country blues "Family" and the lysergic, haunting atmosphere piece "Animal/Human"—the band drifts back into its familiar ethereal fog, running the expected Velvets ("Gideon"), and Stooges ("Tusk") touchpoints through its druggy, dirt-flecked filter. The upside is that Clinic's rediscovery of its lo-fi garage-punk edge should at least reinvigorate those fans who felt slighted by Winchester Cathedral. Unfortunately, for those who've been hanging around waiting for Clinic to eclipse its past achievements, Visitations feels like one step forward, too many steps back.