Clearance'’s charms have always come from the way they cleverly condense their influences into fresh, personality-filled songs. Drawing as much inspiration from '60s U.K. pop and jangly '80s New Zealand indie rock as '90s slacker and contemporary groups they've recently shared bills with like Omni and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, the Chicago-based band's career so far has been full of wiry and witty gems. From their ramshackle and coolheaded 2015 debut, Rapid Rewards, to their 2016 7” single "Are You Aware", each release has boasted memorable riffs and frontman Mike Bellis' bitingly observational lyrics.
Their sophomore effort At Your Leisure is the product of the band's strengths. It's the culmination of long tours, breakneck writing sessions, and the evolving friendship between band members Bellis, guitarist Kevin Fairbairn, bassist Greg Obis, and drummer Arthur Velez. Older and wiser, Clearance uses the trials and tribulations of being an indie rock band navigating the maddeningly contradictory music industry in 2018 as a secret weapon.
Bellis revels in its absurdities throughout. "On The Doorstep" deals with superficiality and the nitty-gritty business side of the industry: "If the contract's ironclad / You're on the doorstep" while "Gallery Glare" tackles winning over a disinterested crowd: "but don't stare / cause you've gotta laugh at the tawdry details of this sordid affair." Even the album's title is a joking play on the snail's pace of modern-day album release cycles. Armed with the experience of an extensive tour with Widowspeak and a stint playing in Brazil, plus sharing bills with bands like Slowdive, Alvvays, Dick Diver and more, they're weathered but not bitter.
At Your Leisure is also a love letter to guitar pop. The majority of the songs came about when Bellis visited New Zealand for a few weeks in 2016, home to acts crucial to the band’s origins like the Clean and others from the classic Flying Nun roster. Compared to Clearance’s slacker-inspired earlier offerings, the songs on the new LP are breezier and more propulsive, radiating simplicity with each riff and airtight hook. Lead single "Had A Fantastic,” the first song written for the project, is a quick and punchy track that channels their Kiwi jangle into something distinctly Midwestern and distinctly their own.
Elsewhere, songs like “Destination Wedding” poke fun at all kinds of bougie rituals while attempting to write their own version of the Kinks’ “Holiday In Waikiki,” as Bellis offers. But it’s not all sunny riffs and good humor. “Haven’t You Got the Time?” is the most direct single on the LP, which Bellis wrote during the disintegration of a relationship. He sings, “Well I’ve been taking it in a new direction, now that I’ve seen the signs / I know you’ll get out when you can.” Bellis’ hides a sadness behind his droll delivery.
The LP was mastered by Total Control’s Mikey Young and recorded with The Hecks’ Dave Vettraino around Chicago at Jamdek Studios, Public House Recordings, and their own West Side practice space, which they share with Chicago stalwarts NE-HI and Deeper. At Your Leisure isn't just the sound of a band confidently finding its voice, it's a reflection of one part of a thriving and collaborative local music community.