I am sneaking this under the seasonal banner as the last track of this album is called Christmas Song. Admittedly, it isn't a song of the jingle bells, happy holiday variety, but the idea of dragging this song out at Christmas parties after Wham! or something like that always amuses me, just to see everyone's face drop. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity, but one day I will, I promise you.
I was first introduced to this band and album when doing some studying in Bradford in 1992. A friend I had made there lent me a tape of Short Forth Self Living, as he'd seen what sort of music I liked and thought this would be right up my street; I was immediately impressed. My first thoughts were "American My Bloody Valentine" and I stand by that snap assessment. I managed to see the band three years later in London, by then having left the student world behind and making the most of gig opportunities in the capital. I was still impressed - and I still thought they sounded like My Bloody Valentine. The lead singer Beth did look a bit scary though, I'm sure she glared at me a couple of times. With the Valentine's recent announcement of new material and gigs, I thought it was worth revisiting this under-rated band, probably not well known even to the usual suspects from early 90s Indie circles.
Formed in 1991 by guitarist Brad Laner, Medicine's sound was akin to that from across the pond to bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Chapterhouse. If anything, their feedback sound was harsher and more industrial in my opinion; the UK bands tried to sweeten the feedback up a bit, but Medicine turned up the metallic sounding notch to 11 out of 10. If My Bloody Valentine sound like a car crash with sugar on top, Medicine sounds more like a multiple pile up with some maniac also going mad with a chainsaw at the same time. I think it's unfair to label them as copyists, as I think they've got enough sonic ideas of there own.
On the first three albums, the vocals were provided by Beth Thompson and on their last album some years later, by Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon, who Laner apparently met on the set of the film The Crow on which her brother Brandon was working (Medicine also appeared briefly in the film as themselves and contributed to the soundtrack).
Short Forth Self Living was released in 1992 and was widely compared to, you guessed it, My Bloody Valentine, who were at their creative peak at the time (or put another way - they were actually recording).
TRACK BY TRACK REVIEW
One More - kicks off with a good minute of an almost monotone circular saw like whine of feedback, with a stray high note floating around. If you can get through this without wincing it's a good chance you'll like what follows. A bass line and drums kick in, and another minute of this elapses until the bassline suddenly mutates into a funky one and the feedback turns into a wailing, fed back guitar riff, with Laner crooning over the top. The big difference between Medicine and their shoegazing peers is that their lyrics are clearly audible and more to the fore of the mix. So quite an opening, showing that Medicine were prepared to take the feedback further than anyone else into the realms of experimentation. By the end of the song, it's almost pop-like, as the closing lyric all but dispenses of the feedback, leaving a poppy riff and ethereal harmonized vocals and you are left to marvel at the range shown in this song alone. An astonishing opening gambit.
Aruca - the beginning is yet another assault on the eardrums; and this literally sounds like a big industrial machine or train screeching to a halt, this sounds abruptly becoming chopping and fragmented, as if something is about to explode, followed by the most thumping tinny drumming you will ever hear, overlaid by the machine which by now is a guitar riff, and into a wail with some bass thrown in in the back of the mix and Beth's distinctive vocal style; as ethereal as, say, Lush but slightly unhinged, as if she's sweet but will take you out with an AK47 if you cross her. Thus fits perfectly with the whole motorway accident dynamic as some kind of counter balance. The really weird thing is they thrown in some tambourines at the end.
Defective - It's straight in with the tinny drumming and wailing, feedback drenched guitar riff. At this point your ears will almost certainly start to twinge a bit, but this is mild in comparison to the previous tracks, with Brad and Beth's harmonized vocal and their characteristic buzzing feedback hanging around. The bass is all but obscured by this.
Short Happy Life - A relatively gentle chime of guitar leads us into more harsh sounding but less prevalent feedback, and the drums and bass are more to the fore, as Beth takes the lead in this almost conventional track. Almost but not quite, as the feedback in the guitar takes over in a mid-track solo.
5ive - This is a very poppy track if that isn't too much of a contradiction. The feedback is very mild and melodic, with only snatches of it evident in the track, which is more about funky, crashing drumming and a groovy, melodic Brad/Beth vocal.
Sweet Explosion - I love the jagged guitar chime in the background throughout of this track, as the feedback is back with a vengeance, although this is again a poppy effort, with somewhat sweeter (ha!) feedback in evidence. Brad certainly likes his guitar solos are there is another one right in the middle of this.
Queen of Tension - a very slow, mournful lament of a song, as the feedback is pushed right back to the mix to almost soothing effect, with the drumming sounding like that percussion thing Rolf Harris plays (no idea what it's called) that makes this "glock!" type sounds. Well anyway, about half way through this song changes into what sounds like the jungle with accompanying animal noises overlaid by wailing feedback guitar work and urgent drumming. Very odd but compelling.
Miss Drugstore - This is one of those tracks that you feel the whole album is leading up to, with a droning guitar riff with accompanying regimented tinny drums throughout and Beth "do-do-do-do" interspersed, to make you think a bit more of the UK shoesgazers (examples are : Ride - "ahhh-ah-ahhh", Chapterhouse - "aaah-ahhhhh-ahhhh" , My Bloody Valentine "ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh"). The wailing, cyclic feedback riff for the latter part of this song is pure genius, and there are at least 3 types of feedback competing here; the wail, the drone, the buzz. It must be an almost impossible trick to pull off but it is done here with considerable élan.
Christmas Song - and to our ostensibly seasonal track. Now THIS is what Christmas songs should sound like - mixed up, layer upon layer of feedback and a soft, melodic vocal, interspersed with several phases of whining solos. Genius. I would definitely pay good money to hear this after "Last Christmas" at the office party (or actually - much more preferably - instead of). For about 5 years I only had about a minute of this song as my C90 tape I had a copy of this on ran out of space. Happily, a job and the resultant second hand CD (thank you, Record and CD Exchange, Notting Hill) remedied this.
1 One More (9:08)
2 Aruca (4:49)
3 Defective (4:10)
4 Short Happy Life (6:39)
5 5ive (3:33)
6 Sweet Explosion (3:15)
7 Queen of Tension (4:14)
8 Miss Drugstore (5:00)
9 Christmas Song (8:33)
Medicine leave behind 4 albums; the first two, Short Forth Self Living and The Buried life are superlative in my opinion, with Short Forth Self living being my recommendation from the two. The last album with the original line-up, Her Highness, is something of a let down I find. I haven't heard the final album with Shannon Lee on vocals so I can't comment on that. There were 8 years between the 3rd and 4th album, and Medicine have been inactive since 2003.
Laner has also recorded as Electric Company. In November 2007 he released his first work as a solo artist, Neighbor Singing, which is apparently characteristic of his earlier work. He has no plans to tour his new work as he has no desire to leave his wife and child behind for such an undertaking.
In my experience, this is an almost unique example of a band of the original shoegazing genre from the US. In fact I can't think of any other examples. It is work checking out if you are a fan of My Bloody Valentines work, although admittedly it might leave you with a tad more of a headache than Kevin Shields & co at times, which is balanced out by some rather poppy parts. So keep the aspirin handy just in case.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 One More
4 Short Happy Life
6 Sweet Explosion
7 Queen Of Tersion
8 Miss Drugstore
9 Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)