Diagnosis: Undefined 

I’m OK, you’re Kid A OK: They’ve been hand-picked twice to tour the globe with Radiohead, but just ’cause Thom Yorke’s wetting his pomo panties over them doesn’t mean that Clinic sounds anything like its most avid admirers. Liverpool’s latest musical exports wouldn’t be surprised if you expected as much, though.

“It happens quite often ’cause it’s an easy [comparison to make],” vocalist Ade Blackburn, jetlagged the morning after his band’s arrival in the United States, says from an Atlanta hotel room. “But we don’t really sound anything like Radiohead, so it’s kinda looking in the wrong area.”

Wrong era, natch. While Radiohead continues to fumble fearlessly through an electronic-phonic future, Clinic’s four surgical-masked lads are pillaging the pop-rock past with an audacity that’s both daunting and haunting. Cobbled from jitterbugged-out beats and undulating organs a la ? and the Mysterians, the band’s ’60s psych-fi surf rock has not only earned it often unfounded comparisons to Radiohead, but to everyone from Can and Crime to the Modern Lovers and the Velvets. Not a bad list of so-called influences as far as that name game goes, but Clinic nonetheless remains one of the most proudly undefinable, indescribable acts on the trans-Atlantic horizon.

“Most of the descriptions somewhere along the way describe us as quite psychotic music or psychotic party music,” Blackburn continues with a laugh, clearly enjoying the turns of phrase that journalists have coined to explain the band’s discombobulated rock bebop. “A lot of the descriptions are different, though, and people don’t seem to be able to come up with a category that they’re completely happy with to put us into. I think that’s really good.”

Formed against the Britpop backdrop of ’97, Clinic is a gang of four garage-rockers riding an import-informed wave of hype ever since self-releasing its first single, the gloriously tongue-in-cheeky “I.P.C. Subeditors Dictate Our Youth.” After a pair of subsequent and equally superb singles, the band signed a deal with the Domino Recording Company in early ’99, releasing an inimitably eerie full-length debut, Internal Wrangler, the following spring. That album didn’t see a stateside release until last September, however, and after a single show, the band’s long-awaited U.S. tour was derailed in the wake of Sept. 11.

The group returned briefly in October to make up a handful of dates, but this month’s cross-country trek marks Clinic’s first national U.S. tour — this time in support of Walking With Thee, its impressive and more sonically textured second LP. And with five years of ear-exploding buzz preceding these gigs, Clinic is conscious of the enormous expectations that so much hype has produced.

“We’re aware of the buzz and how it’s built up, but we’re confident in how we play, so we don’t feel nervous about it,” Blackburn says. “Besides, you can only do what you do, and everything else comes down to other people’s interpretations.”

And by publicly appearing only in surgical garb — and keeping mum about lyrics, cryptic song titles, members’ names and instrumental duties — Clinic has carefully constructed a mystique around itself and its music that’s nothing if not purposefully open to personal interpretation.

“When you see photographs or videos of bands, and it’s just completely four fully normal people, there’s no intrigue to it. [The surgical outfits] set the tone even before we’ve played any music — something outside of the everyday of what people are used to,” he explains. “You need something that keeps people guessing both musically and visually. And we don’t like to explain things. We like to leave it up to the listeners’ imaginations.”

Clinic will perform Saturday, March 30, at the Shelter with the Kingsbury Manx. See our online events calendar for details.

Jimmy Draper writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com

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