Album Review: Medicine – To The Happy Few

When you hear a song like “Long As The Sun” -the opener on Medicine’s excellent new album To The Happy Few– you don’t think that this is a band that has essentially been stored in moth balls for 18 years. You think you’re hearing The Beach Boys ran through the Jesus and Mary Chain warpulator. With its woozy harmonies blanketed by buzzing guitars, slightly psychedelic groove, and drums that bludgeon more than move, you don’t get “reunion” vibes. You get “we never left” vibes. And that’s just the first five minutes of Medicine’s triumphant return.

I have to admit, before December of 2012 I had no idea who Medicine was. They were on a soundtrack in 1994. They were thought of as the U.S. answer to My Bloody Valentine(they both start with M!), they were seen staring at their shoes once(they were tying them), and there’s guy/girl vocals(I think…umm, other bands have done that, too). But it wasn’t until some rummaging through Captured Tracks website and their ‘shoegaze archives’ did I locate this forgotten(ignored) Los Angeles treasure. Out of love for the album cover and title I bought Shot Forth Self Living and realized I’d missed out on something special. This double album was filled with buzz saw guitars, drugged-out dance beats, woozy and manipulated vocals, and melancholy melodies that at the album’s core created a subversive guitar pop masterpiece. It felt like Brad Laner wanted to disguise the fact that he loved The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and 60s bubblegum pop, so he buried his interpretations of those classics in a mountain of squealing noise. What he may or may not have realized is that he created something completely new in the process. The Buried Life followed SFSL and honed in on the essence of that new “thing” Laner stumbled upon and turned into one of the best albums you’ve never heard. One more album followed with the original three members(consisting of Brad Laner, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall) before they said goodbye in 1995. Fast forward to 2012 and Captured Tracks reissuing those first two albums with tons of bonus goodies. During the process of putting those reissues together Laner, Thompson, and Goodall decided they sort of missed playing together, so they began writing what is now To The Happy Few. This is no money grab. This is no shameless self promotion ploy. This is an album overflowing with melody, noise, and love for creation. To The Happy Few is the real deal.

The biggest difference in the Medicine of 1993 to the Medicine of 2013 is that the older, wiser Medicine’s production prowess is second to none. Laner has become a producer to be reckoned with. “Long As The Sun”, “It’s Not Enough”, “Burn It” are absolute ear candy. Whooshing guitars ping pong back and forth making your equilibrium feel like jello. Beth Thompson’s vocals are much more prominent and less processed, showcasing her wonderfully ethereal voice. And at times Jim Goodall makes Medicine sound like John Bonham drumming with Cocteau Twins. He bashes the skins like a man on fire. “Holy Crimes” is an example of how much ground is covered in some of these songs. Starting with a bouncy piano and Thomson singing in what sounds like a bathroom, pretty soon an almost tense melody line emerges before the song literally explodes half way through and the melody returns. This isn’t just music;  it’s an aural painting. “Butterfly’s Out Tonight” is one of the most stunning tracks on this album. It’s this beautiful soundscape with a rolling drum line that breaks into this driving vehicle for Beth Thompson to give us an incredible vocal melody as Laner gets to give us a mixture of Van Dykes Park and Kevin Shields all in one incredible track.

It’s useless for me to talk about every track, as every track makes this album what it is. What it is, is pure aural joy. It’s three people showing us why we were wrong to not listen all those years ago. This isn’t a continuation of what they started in 1991. This is a new beginning to something even better. Forget shoegaze, folks. This is music of the highest order, regardless where your gaze lands.

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