[a.k.a. #12 of However Many I Care to List, in No Particular Order: Albums That I Have Listened To Both Intermittently And Incessantly, That I Imagine I Will Continue To Listen To Periodically For The Remainder Of My Life, Which I Consider To Be The Seminal Works Of (Or Most Accessible Entry Points To) Musical Artists Whom I Believe Have Been Woefully Underrated And Criminally Underrepresented In The Modern Music Canon At Large, And Which Also At Some Point While Playing I Have Very Likely Been Asked To Turn Down or Turn Off]
Get ready for a shocker, folks! This band has both a male AND a female vocalist! Medicine features guitarist Brad Laner and vocalist Beth Thompson singing both alternating leads and simultaneous harmonies, but it is Laner’s guitar work here that deserves special mention. I was lent the CD of Shot Forth Self Living in my senior year of college, and I was so mesmerized by the sheer force of it that I ended up trading my copy of the Cocteau Twins’ The Pink Opaque for it (if I haven’t yet spoken about how much I love the Cocteau Twins, let me just say, there was much internal debate before settling on this decision).
“One More” begins with a single, squalling note of guitar feedback that sustains itself for a good two and a half minutes, gradually joined by an almost subliminal undercurrent of drums and bass, and just when you think that’s all the song has up its sleeve, the guitar bursts into two layers of steeply intervaled melodic progression, repeating a couple of times before the entrance of Laner’s vocals. Still, it takes almost eight minutes before the guitar ever backs off to “make room” for anything else in the mix, before that, it just keeps scraping and galloping ahead, daring the rest of the band to keep up. That description might make it sound like someone needs to fire their mixing engineer, but I’m pretty sure that role was filled by Laner himself, and clearly, this is a musician who knows what he wants: to melt listeners’ faces off.
Medicine have always been a bit of an odd duck, an LA-based answer to the wave of great shoegaze emanating from England at the time. Their biggest claim to fame was being “the band in the background” during a club scene in the The Crow, performing the non-album single Time Baby II (though it would be a later version, Time Baby III, that would appear on the movie’s official soundtrack, featuring a guest vocal turn from none other than Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins). Their debut album in particular does feel like an American response to My Bloody Valentine’s monolithic Loveless, and anyone familiar with that record must know that any response should be crafted with both the care and the sheer ballsiness that SFSL has in spades. The songs here generally display more sense of structure than MBV’s work, there are clear-cut verses and choruses, the vocals are more intelligible (and thus easier to sing along with, always a plus from my point of view), and, of course, Laner’s joyously, ludicrously overdriven guitar conducting the orchestra of noise.
The 2nd track, “Aruca,” begins with what sounds like a guitar with its neck caught in a repeatedly slamming door, only to evolve into an infectiously catchy, killer groove. Each track here performs a similar welcome trick: the sonic assault consistently enhances the songs (as opposed to obscuring or standing in for them), remaining a testament to both the band’s inventiveness and sense of songcraft, culminating in the epic closer “Christmas Song” (an improbable halfway point between Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Yuck’s “Rubber”).
Their 2nd album, The Buried Life, alters the approach slightly but remains solidly rewarding, an essential pairing with their debut. The 3rd, Her Highness, contains a few winning tracks, but shows signs of the magic starting to fade… The 4th, The Mechanical Forces of Love, doesn’t appear for nearly a decade, by which time Beth Thompson has taken her trusty, understated alto and left the band, replaced by vocalist Shannon Lee, and Laner seems to have grown bored with his guitar, instead choosing to use primarily electronic instruments this time around, polarizing critics and listeners alike.
Oddly, this may end up being the most well-known of my album picks: an excellent retrospective take on their first two records already exists on Prefix, and they’ve been getting more press lately in general, the original lineup having recently reformed to resume touring and recording, releasing two new studio albums, a live album, AND a reworked version of The Mechanical Forces of Love entitled 2.0 Extraneous. In addition to that, Brad, ever the busy bee (seriously, I cannot even keep track of how many bands he’s been in, The Electric Company and Amnesia among them), has put out a new solo album as well, Nearest Suns, accompanied by the following sweet video for its first single.