Even the most tunnel-sighted of shoegazers probably weren’t clamoring for a reunion of Los Angeles’ Medicine, a band whose biggest break came in 1994 with a cameo appearance in The Crow. It was a match made in heaven at the time: a noisy, industrial pop band and a darkly supernatural action film, both seemingly predestined for cult status. The film, it turns out, had a bit more staying power than the band. After fans and critics met 1995’s Her Highness with tepid interest, Medicine quietly sneaked out the back door, seemingly destined to remain a footnote in a shoegaze scene that was already showing its years.
How times change. Medicine’s original lineup roared back to life with last year’s To the Happy Few, their first proper LP in 18 years and one that saw them flexing muscles that simply weren’t there the first time around. Whereas its dreamy soundscapes and reverb-laden guitars formed an obvious bridge to the past, To the Happy Few found a way to blend by-the-books shoegaze with some surprising electro and dance-pop influences. The new wrinkles in the band’s sound probably owe a great deal to multi-instrumentalist and founding member Brad Laner, who spent his time off from Medicine appearing on records with Brian Eno, M83, and other electronic music luminaries.
Given their newfound complexity of vision, Medicine have achieved something few nostalgia acts can claim: They’ve managed to sound more vital and interesting now than they did then. What’s more, they’re outpacing their younger peers. Home Everywhere marks their second LP in just over a year, and it’s arguably even more ambitious than its predecessor. It also finds the band hungry to explore new directions that don’t fit within the narrow templates of “noise pop” or “shoegaze.”
One of those new directions is an unexpected reliance on hooks, part and parcel of the band’s decision to peel back (if only slightly) the massive, MBV-esque wall of noise. Sure, opening track “The Reclaimed Girl” blasts off with a curtain of fuzz, but it soon falls into a sexy groove that pushes Beth Thompson’s rich vocals to the forefront. Here, the squealing guitars and pianos aren’t used in the service of atmosphere, but rather to establish a backbone for the swaying rhythm. Thompson’s ethereal voice also features prominently on single “Turning”, where it’s layered and coupled with an infectious, Brazilian-inspired drumbeat.
The drums remain a highlight and focal point throughout the rest of side A, especially on the dreamy pop song “Cold Life”. Here more than anywhere, we are reminded that Medicine is a quintessentially Californian band. Despite its name, “Cold Life” is perhaps the warmest song on the album, with sweet vocal harmonies and sunny hooks that stretch the length of a beach.
Medicine’s psychedelic whimsy continues to show on tracks like “They Will Not Die”, which dials back the vocals and probably incorporates too many instruments for its own good. The results are more chaotic and less interesting than they should be, and Thompson’s voice is sorely missed here, if only for its function as connective tissue. “It’s All About You” and “The People” revert back to a more ostensibly drone-y sound, and while both tracks are undeniably lush, they fail to capture the sense of progression so apparent elsewhere on the album.
Home Everywhere’s strongest statement comes with its closer and title track, a multi-part epic that coalesces the album’s many components into something resembling a unified whole. Though less directly pleasurable than the three opening tracks, “Home Everywhere” warrants repeated exploring. Around the midpoint, the curtain of distortion lifts to reveal Thompson’s voice transposed into an echoing choir, which in turn gives way to a dense web of modulated sounds. It’s everything that’s fun and interesting about Medicine, and it reminds us why we should have been wishing for their reunion years ago. Then again, they didn’t sound quite so at home back then.
Essential Tracks: “Turning”, “Cold Life”, and “Home Everywhere”