Album Reviews

Medicine – To the Happy Few

on August 07, 2013, 12:03am
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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.

Much like My Bloody Valentine, Medicine has unexpectedly returned with an album of fresh material. Though Medicine’s driving figure, guitarist/keyboardist Brad Laner, used the Medicine name for 2003’s The Mechanical Forces of Love, the album was not particularly well received by critics and the lack of  other original band members generally keeps it from being recognized as a proper Medicine reunion album, making To the Happy Few a true return to form for the group.

This new LP is the final result of a meeting between lineup-defining vocalist Beth Thompson and drummer Jim Goodall at Laner’s home to suss out details for vinyl reissues to be released on Captured Tracks. Dusting off the old albums proved inspirational enough to reignite the creative spark, and the final result is an exceptionally relevant album in a time when just about every current indie rock band not preoccupied with biting the mid ’60s garage sound is referencing classic shoegaze.

Thompson’s gossamer vocals carry gently through the massive walls of noise produced by Laner and Goodall. The trappings of the band’s early output are present: massive guitars as expansive as they are lush, deceptively complex drumming acting in a role of utility, and texturized blocks of harmonized vocals freshly picked from some psychotropic fever dream (note that that’s dream and not nightmare).

Laner has said in a recent interview that Medicine “is a Southern California psychedelic rock band first and foremost” and To the Happy Few truly exemplifies that statement — particularly the beaming “Long as the Sun”, the multi-tiered romp of “Butterfly’s out Tonight”, and “All You Need to Know”. As a whole, the album has a wonderful density that reveals a new secret with every listen, melodies buried in caverns of reverb and tricky guitar bits that hide in reversed delay. But, exploratory listens are not a requirement to enjoy the candy-coated world Medicine has created with its triumphant return.

Essential Tracks: “Long as the Sun”, ”End of the Line”, and “Butterfly’s Out Tonight”

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