Release Date: Aug 6, 2013
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
After splitting up in 1995 and going their separate ways, it seemed unlikely that the original members of the pioneering American shoegaze band Medicine would ever record again. Especially after the band's main man Brad Laner revived the name for the not very noisy, not very good Mechanical Forces of Love record in 2003. Things began to change when Captured Tracks reissued the group's first two albums: the breathtaking noise blast Shot Forth Self Living and the candy pop gem The Buried Life, in 2012.
With the benefit of a little hindsight, it’s easy to claim that Medicine came along at the right time, just in the wrong place, a fish-out-of-water L.A. shoegazer act seemingly exiled a continent and ocean away from the bands with which it had the most in common. As logical as that account seems now, things weren’t so clean and easy during Medicine’s early/mid-‘90s heyday, since shoegaze was hardly part of everyone’s alt-rock consciousness in the U.S.
Los Angeles' Medicine were always considered the American counterpart to Britain's My Bloody Valentine. They shared a disorienting, gauzy production style heavy on guitar pedal trickery and buried, cherubic vocals, not to mention a label, in Creation Records. Coincidentally, both bands have returned after extended hiatuses with new records this year.
In the early ’90s, Los Angeles outfit Medicine were considered by many to be the American answer to the genre-forging My Bloody Valentine. While the two groups certainly shared common ground in a bombastic approach and a dense wall of sound, Medicine made decidedly brighter music, applying the skull-cleaving volume and layering that helped to define the shoegaze sound to its brand of sun-soaked dream pop. It’s what would have happened to Kevin Shields and his bandmates had they abused their pawn shop Fenders beneath the California sun, rather than the gray skies of Dublin.
The 1990s revival has seen a lot of odd reunions, but L.A. noise-pop band Medicine’s return after its split 18 years ago still stands out. The group, best known for its inclusion on The Crow soundtrack in 1994, didn’t leave behind a sizeable fan base, and while there’s been recent resurgence of interest in the decade’s shoegaze scene, to which the band was tangentially involved, they’re not exactly a household name.
I remember Medicine the first time around. (I know I’m giving away my age a bit there.) They appeared in 1992 with a debut album, Shot Forth Self Living, which seemed in opposition to the majority of American guitar-based music of the time – obsessed with Nirvana, Seattle and Grunge. Medicine were definitely America’s answer to My Bloody Valentine, and they married the wall of guitar-generated noise with an acute sense of melody better than most.
Everything that made admirers fall in love with the shoegaze genre the first time around (and has made them giddy with its recent revival) is exploited on Medicine's latest outing. Eighteen years on from when the original line-up split, Brad Laner et al show no signs of abandoning their quest to emulate the quintessential Kevin Shields sound: the androgynous vocals throughout the album, the wind tunnel effect on "Holy Crimes," the sawing-yet-ethereal guitars on "Burn It," the proto-metal drumming on "Butterfly's Out Tonight." The issue is that these all feel a little too present and correct to really stir up excitement for the return of an iconic band. .
One unsatisfying thing about the early ’90s shoegaze scene was how few of My Bloody Valentine’s peers even came close to challenging the flagship band for radical formlessness or brutal extremity. LA ensemble Medicine, a then-rare example of American shoegaze, gave it a spirited crack over three feedback-pickled albums, two of which were recently reissued by Captured Tracks in advance of this sprightly comeback album. Straight out of the blocks, they scour ears with multi-tracked stacks of atonal guitar and booming drums (‘Long As The Sun’).
With youth comes anger - not just the chronic sense of injustice we all recognise as 'angst' but moments of acute rage tinged with helplessness arising out of a naïve (but understandable) sense of entitlement - an inexpressible belief in a materialistic, visible form of karma and the crushing blows of disappointment that come with the painful, repeated realisation that life isn't fair. With age comes acceptance - the awareness of anger and its futility; the fact that it only makes one's vulnerability more apparent, and that it is never not regretted. The belief in karma remains - not in the form of a supernatural force, but as a far more reasonable statement: 'actions have consequences'.
On the heels of Captured Tracks’ reissues of its seminal albums Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life, the core lineup of Medicine – singer Beth Thompson, drummer Jim Goodall and multi-instrumentalist/composer Brad Laner – reunite for a new album. Unsurprisingly, after so much time off and away from each other, the trio sounds revitalized inside the danceable psychedelia of To the Happy Few. The band’s M.O.
Following the release of new material from My Bloody Valentine earlier this year, another noisy Creation shoegaze act have got in on the reformation act. Thankfully, it’s not Adorable. mbv succeeded by applying subtle tweaks to their unmistakable sound. They used trip hop on ‘New You’, jungle on ‘Wonder 2? and the luscious late 60s atmospherics of The Beach Boys on ‘Is This and Yes’.