by Patrick Pilch (@pratprilch)
Since 2013, Clearance have kept a steady output of jangly, guitar-driven tunes inspired by the college rock era of the 80s and the indie rock golden age of the 90s. Their style draws heavily from the work of their predecessors, but the band humbly embraces their notably familiar sound through self aware titular homage and maintaining good humor through countless Pavement comparisons. While the band no longer blots covers with liquid paper pockmarks akin to Pavement’s original appropriation, Clearance’s latest continues to embrace the band’s favorites of yesteryear while carving their own persona through undeniably catchy tunes.
For their Topshelf debut, the Chicago quartet reaches to all corners of the last 40 years of independent rock, putting together eleven remarkably familiar, yet fully authentic tracks. At Your Leisure smacks of R.E.M.’s college radio charm, Soft Boys’ neo-psychedelia and Mark Mulcahy’s radiant jangle pop. There’s a dash of Oasis mixed with a heavy splash of Deerhunter’s notorious psych on tracks like “Frozen Orange/No Wonder” and “Haven’t You Got the Time?” Cox-like coos occupy the final moments of the former, while “Desire Lines” arpeggios surface on the latter. “Haven’t You Got the Time?” is At Your Leisure’s most immediate highlight, landing in a melodic intersection of “Speed Trials” and “Hardcore UFOs,” as frontman Mike Bellis phonetically recalls Robert Pollard’s long “i” inflections.
Perhaps restricted by Bellis’ admittedly narrow vocal range, the tracks on At Your Leisure may blend upon first listen, but they evolve into something much more cohesive upon subsequent spins. Instead of crafting variations on a theme, as cross-the-pond contemporaries Ultimate Painting so seamlessly did, Clearance use their own limitations to their creative advantage. Most tracks remain in the same key, but each is introduced with an impressive amount of urgency and appeal, expanding into increasingly complex arrangements. Take “Destination Wedding,” the key cut that kicks off At Your Leisure on a less-than-lackadaisical Real Estate note. After a nimble opening riff, the track wades into open jangle pop territory before submerging into a swampy shoegaze section around the two minute mark. It’s dissociating and hypnotic, wafting a sense of disorienting psychedelia into the track before looping back to its clean-cut theme.
All comparisons aside, At Your Leisure is Clearance’s best release to date. While listeners may find the band’s easily comparable sound distracting, there’s no doubt Clearance are fully aware of what they’re doing. They possess the ability to take what other bands do best and make it their own. It’s especially exciting on At Your Leisure, as the group’s influence becomes increasingly ambiguous, making tracks like the stunning “Another Arrow” and burning closer “Bird’s-Eye View” sound like, well, Clearance.