A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Label: Captured Tracks
Release Date: 4.21.12
Format: 2 LP/2 CD
Medicine were dismissively labelled as a shoegaze band in 1993, when The Buried Life was originally released on American Records. Brad Laner, Beth Thompson and Jim Goodall did share a mutual love of the Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and the Creation Records roster, but Laner has also spoken of an infatuation with The Beach Boys, Alvin Lucier, Stockhausen, Whitehouse & Georgian choral music in interviews. It quickly becomes obvious, to anyone with ears, that there is more going on than critics at the time realized.
The Buried Life was Medicine’s second record, one year after Shot Forth Self Living, their major label debut. In that year’s time, the band shed two members, and The Buried Life is a much different beast. Where SFSL was primarily the sound of a band in the room, The Buried Life was meticulously sculpted in the studio, with lead guitarist Brad Laner meticulously layering the lion’s share of the material into an intricate sound sculpture, that spans decades and genres, and expanded the vocabulary of adventurous guitar-based music, in its wake.
Over the duration of these 2 discs, you will hear the band span aggressive noisy dream pop, chamber rock and scraping sound collage. It feels like being caught in a sandstorm, like driving fast down a rain-soaked empty freeway. It’s a soundtrack for staring out the window, or getting ready for the club. The Captured Tracks reissue features the original album in a remastered version, plus an expanded disc of demos, live cuts and alternate versions. The most notable of these would be Van Dyke Parks’ arrangement of Time Baby, which is getting released here for the first time. There’s quite a lot of rarities here, which will most likely appeal to those who already know and are obsessed with this band, but even if you don’t yet know them, its enjoyable to throw on these discs and get lost in these soundworlds for hours.
The Buried Life is interesting in that it sounds very much of its time, and entirely seperate from it at the same time. 1993 was the year grunge broke, seeing the release of Nirvana‘s In Utero and Smashing Pumpkins‘ Siamese Dream. While TBL does feature thick, barnstorming guitars and wispy vocals, Medicine seemed separate from the skinny metal of grunge, and drew most of their inspiration from underground British music of the age. You will hear shards of Acid House and even some Drum ‘N Bass, along with the furious guitar, making for a unique and adventurous fusion of heavy, aggressive sounds with dance music that people are still striving to get right.
That brings us to the dark heart of the matter, the danger of labels and the power of retrospection. Someone hears, ‘shoegaze band’, ‘sounds like MBV’, and they think they have a handle on it, they have a preconception, and they can quickly shelve that band and move on. This kind of behavior served a purpose, when it still paid to be an expert, when music critics were begged for their expert critique and analysis. No one gives a shit about yr record collection, any longer, and almost everybody (bands included) have to beg to be heard. There is nobody to impress with a hasty, hollow opinion of a band’s work.
Medicine certainly share a number of Shoegaze’s trademarks: a distorted wall-of-guitars, gender neutral vocals, (Brad Laner and Beth Thompson share vocal duties), buried low in the mix, more texture than lyric sheet. Other than that, i would compare Medicine to what has come to be known as Noise Pop, as pretty piano lines and saw strings sharply pirouette and slam into satisfyingly sludgy power riffs. If anything, i would say Medicine is the sound of a group of musicians coming to grips with technology, the possibilities of manipulating the raw components of sound, and combining that with classic, timeless pop mastery. This blend of raw, avant-garde experimentation and pop sensibility has been a connecting thread through Laner’s 3 decade career.
I started listening to the Captured Tracks reissues to brush up for reviewing To The Happy Few, for Freq. magazine. Like everybody else, i became familiar with Medicine by way of their collaboration with Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Frazer, aka The Cocteau Twins, on Time Baby III from The Crow soundtrack.
To The Happy Few is Medicine’s first album with The Buried Life‘s line-up in 18 years, and i was curious to see how they had changed, not wanting to write a hasty review. I thought this was another reunion, but it turns out Laner has never left, and has been busily making music, in a variety of bands and solo projects, the whole time. It also turns out that he’s been making music far longer than i had realized. He played his first gig in 1979, and spent a year as Savage Republic‘s drummer, in 1988. His is a lifetime spent drowning in sound.
The sonic continent of Brad Laner, and Medicine’s, discography, is vaster and wilder than some people’s idea of the band as one-hit wonder would realize. This is exactly my favorite kind of thing to rep and report on, the tip of an iceberg, that leads to the dark depths of the whole of the murky underground. 20 years after, it’s a perfect time for reconsideration. Captured Tracks must feel that same way, as they gave Medicine’s first two records a lavish reissue treatment last year, which resulted in the classic lineup of this band burying the hatchet and recording a whole new album and playing some shows. This is apparently just the beginning, and they already have almost enough material for a whole ‘nother record.
What started off as a simple research assignment has led to days and weeks of wandering the labyrinths of a musical history. Here’s to hoping it helps my review of To The Happy Few.
Kudos to Captured Tracks for instating their Shoegaze Archives, series. We’re gonna borrow a page from yr playbook, so i’m instating a new series called Backwards Listening, where we’ll be going through historic recordings, trying to find the best, trying to learn, trying to see where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
now you can too:
The Buried Life @ Amazon
Shoegaze Archives @ Captured Tracks
extensive interview w/ Brad Laner for shoegaze/dreampop blog When The Sunshine Hits
Brad Laner answers the Questions Of Doom for Bad Vibes
CTMIX-001 heavy psych mix for Captured Tracks
Brad’s column for Dangerous Minds, including tons of mixes and podcasts!