Music Reviews
To The Happy Few

Medicine To The Happy Few

(Captured Tracks) Rating - 7/10

I remember Medicine the first time around. (I know I’m giving away my age a bit there.) They appeared in 1992 with a debut album, Shot Forth Self Living, which seemed in opposition to the majority of American guitar-based music of the time – obsessed with Nirvana, Seattle and Grunge. Medicine were definitely America’s answer to My Bloody Valentine, and they married the wall of guitar-generated noise with an acute sense of melody better than most. They were also notable for being one of the only (possibly the only) examples of a shoegaze band to come from the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, the term shoegaze has come to be regarded as something of a retro-inspired put-down, but at the time it seemed a fresh approach to remain unengaged from your audience when playing live, or to hide any sense of lyrical meaning behind a dense wash of reverb, processed guitar, and volume. As was, and still remains, the case with any scene or micro-genre, the first wave of originators gave way to a subsequent tide of pale (literally in many cases) imitators. But to blame MBV for Chapterhouse (for example) would be like blaming Bowie for Gary Glitter. It’s not fair; it’s just the way of the world.

To return to Medicine, I am afraid my knowledge of their career after their first album was precisely zero (maybe not quite zero, as I was dimly aware they’d contributed a track to The Crow soundtrack in 1994). However, after doing a bit of research for this review, it seems they didn’t really follow up on the promise of their debut, releasing two more albums before splitting in 1995. They kind of reformed in 2003, but to little effect. But now, To The Happy Few signals a more purposeful reunion, and to a large degree it’s a very successful one. Maybe they (I mean he – band founder and mainstay Brad Laner) feel that the zeitgeist has come around again. And maybe they’re right, after MBV’s triumphant return earlier this year.

Where the band succeeds is in their sound – the raw physicality of noise produced primarily by Laner’s guitar. It’s a guitar that quite often sounds nothing like a guitar, the signal having been pushed through a myriad of effects pedals and processes before being emitted from the speaker. Of course, MBV have been doing much the same kind of thing for about as long and Sonic Youth for a good while longer. So while I’m making no great claims of originality, it’s still a pleasure to have one’s ears scoured in such a manner. Vocals too deserve a mention. Singer Beth Thompson’s ethereal vocals are very often pushed way down in the mix, usually behind the guitar, but they become a part of the whole sound rather than a lead instrument. The melodies are for, the most part, fairly simple and not overly memorable, but through multi-tracking harmonies and layered sounds the overall effect is actually quite beautiful. If there’s a single track that stands out it’s probably album opener Long As The Sun, dreamy Californian sunshine pop sung against a wall of distortion, feedback, and effects. It sets a tone for the album that doesn’t alter much over its running time, but it is one that seems to work.

I’m glad Medicine are back. Their return seemed a little odd when it was first announced - after all, there was no clamouring throng of fans calling for a reunion. But the resulting album feels fresh and contemporary – as much as any new young guitar band around today – and not at all a retro step. I hope they stick around a while longer. Just don’t call them nu-gaze.