Backspin: Rediscovering Medicine

L.A.’s answer to the U.K. shoegaze craze of the early ’90s was Medicine. While perhaps best remembered by some as the band who appeared onscreen in The Crow, they deserve to be celebrated for their music: a mélange of danceable pop songs smothered in sheets of ear-splitting guitars.

Brad Laner served time in numerous punk and new wave bands like Debt of Nature and Steaming Coils before a three-year stint playing drums for Savage Republic. He formed Medicine in 1991 after running his guitar into a cassette 4-track recorder, amplifying the distorted signal, and realizing he had struck upon a unique sound.

Captured Tracks has reprinted the first two Medicine albums as part of their Shoegaze Archives series. Shot Forth Self Living (1992) and The Buried Life (1993) are both available as double LP sets with attractive gatefold sleeves. Also included are CD booklets and download codes for the digital files. Both albums have a fourth side containing bonus tracks; in addition, each comes with a 19-track companion album filled with demos and alternate mixes.

Debut album Shot Forth Self Living is definitely the crown jewel of the set. From the shuddering 9-minute onslaught of “One More” to the slowcore churn of “Christmas Song,” the album is an inspired statement of purpose.

“Aruca” begins with an extended bit of atonal noise before collapsing into a deep groove that probably would have rocked the Hacienda back in ’92. Beth Thompson’s seductive vocals are pitched about halfway between Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, and the familiar warped hook bears a strong similarity to My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon.”

It’s not hard to see why Medicine were initially compared to the titans of shoegaze. Still, this doesn’t make the song any less catchy or fun. Even the most shameless MBV copy bands would sound refreshing in a few months, as the airwaves became clogged with the guttural sounds of constipated grunge singers.

The group pared down to a trio of Laner, Thompson, and drummer Jim Goodall after their debut, with Laner playing all instrumental parts besides the drums. Despite lacking the full band sound of its predecessor, The Buried Life is a solid collection of tunes. Sweet melodies gradually creep under the skin, and “She Knows Everything” and “Never Click” deftly navigate the divide between melody and dissonance.

The bonus tracks on The Buried Life showcase the band’s willingness to experiment with their material. Legendary arranger Van Dyke Parks works his magic on the album version of “Live It Down,” but an alternate take sees the song transformed into a delightfully noisy pop-punk gem. Parks also lends a carnivalesque touch to “Time Baby VDP.”

Medicine never quite broke into the mainstream, although their influence was perceptible in the image and sound of more traditionally successful acts like Garbage. Many listeners will be discovering them for the first time via these reissues. Luckily, the music sounds better than ever.

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