Chicago indie rock quartet, Clearance, deliver eleven fun and thoughtful songs on their second full-length record, At Your Leisure. Singer/guitarist Mike Bellis’ vocal style is best described as a more-controlled Stephen Malkmus, and it fits well with the band’s slightly wavy sound that is emphasized largely by lead guitarist, Kevin Fairbairn. Clearance’s rhythm section, made up of bassist Greg Obis and drummer Arthur Velez, offers a solid foundation for Bellis and Fairbairn by maintaining a groove that feels light yet durable throughout.
Bellis’ lyrics are often poetically ambiguous, allowing listeners to project their own meaning onto them. “I’ve had enough but I’m glad I came, to look down upon it in the driving rain,” are the first lines heard during At Your Leisure’s opener, “Chances are”, an upbeat number that lasts just over two minutes and cleverly showcases Clearance’s emotive guitar interplay while shifting in and out of choruses. “Frozen Orange/No Wonder” is a curveball that gets tossed into the mix roughly one third of the way into the record. The song’s initial portion drifts and sways before the second portion arrives and comes off sounding like a stubborn uphill climb in both mood and construct. It’s an odd place in the sequence for a song of this sort to appear, especially after the rollicking pair of tracks that open the album. “Had A Fantastic” is another pleasant, jaunty moment from the record’s first half, but at a running time of just ninety seconds it feels like it’s over way too soon.
The wonderful jangle pop of “Haven’t You Got the Time?” nicely bridges the gap between At Your Leisure’s first and second halves before the band stretches their legs a bit on the multifaceted “Another Arrow”. Here, Bellis and company play with tempo changes and shift neatly through Arthur Velez’s stop/start drumming as Clearance first builds and then releases tension before the two guitarists break into a dynamic race to the track’s finish. At Your Leisure exits the same way it entered, bookending the entire experience with a pair of bouncy songs that have the group at their most exuberant. “On the Doorstep” comes across like early 2000s Belle & Sebastian and works as a nice precursor to the album’s poppy closer, “Birds-Eye-View (Of the Room)”.
Although at times the record’s sequencing is awkward, and a couple of the more promising songs feel prematurely terminated, there are more than a few very good moments to be found here. With At Your Leisure, Clearance avoid a sophomore slump by relying wisely on their competencies and drawing inspiration from their indie rock forbears in order to create a mostly solid collection that positions them well for a promising third act.