Medicine - To The Happy Few - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Medicine - To The Happy Few

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8.5 Release Date:2013-08-05

After last year's welcome re-issue and re-packaging of their first two albums following such a long time out of print, it was even more of a surprise to hear that early-to-mid-90s noise advocators Medicine were back together, recording a new album. They previously borrowed from the My Bloody Valentine guide to musical discordance, successfully mixing it with Sonic Youth experimentalism for Shot Forth Self Living, then refined their sound and expanded their ideas, with a hint of Cocteau Twins ethereality for The Buried Life and Her Highness. It's great to hear that while To the Happy Few doesn't deviate too much from this, it is still a fresh and fully-formed release which improves with every listen.

The intent is laid bare on lead single 'Long as the Sun', a feedback-drenched and noisy opening, accompanied by pounding drums, which leads into a wandering, rolling song, with a buried, harmonised male and female vocal, a hypnotic Jah Wobble bass groove, an organ not a million miles from fellow American dreamers Rocketship, and guitars fuzzed-up to the hilt. It is a very sweet-sounding opener, full of glorious, controlled noise and lovely guitar loops; a busy and luscious song, overflowing with ideas which neatly sum up the album.

The hectic pace is maintained on 'It's Not Enough', with fast, repetitious motorik bass and drums, like Can and Neu!, propelling the song and supporting the awashed, almost-underwater, treated vocal. It is a heavily psychedelic-influenced number in its aura and use of guitars, keys and mellotron, something King Crimson could be proud to call their own. The only real criticism is that, while it's clear every note and noise is planned to perfection, there is too much going on, and the song feels muddled and overwrought as a result at times.

'Butterfly's Out Tonight' takes a similar, chaotic, shape-shifting path, but thankfully is more coherent. Militaristic drumming, a bass not too far from 2-Tone, and warm electronics, piano and synths, support Beth Thompson's submerged, sun-drenched Debbie Harry vocals, at a maddening pace. With perhaps only Caribou as a contemporary, it a deeply interesting and dreamy take on modern psychedelia, a million miles away from the drone-influenced groups which currently dominate the scene and whose chords feel like they last a dull, throbbing lifetime.

There are clear nods to dreamy psychedelia throughout the album, such as on 'Burn It', with increased keys, a funk heart, swathes of swirling sounds and loops, and a bassline uncannily similar at times to Squeeze's 'Take Me, I'm Yours'. It's also on 'Holy Crimes', a song which speeds along at a lightning pace with instruments drifting in and out, taking a breather partway through with a church organ at the centre, only to explode back into life and change another couple of gears, closing with Beth's poignant lyric - "Don't despair, life's not for everyone/ Don't despair, it's not for you to care" - being slowly engulfed by squalling guitars. It's a modern prog-rock masterpiece that just about holds itself together.

Medicine excel when they briefly take the foot of the gas (or occasionally their FX pedals). 'Find Me Always' still possesses hypnotic guitar loops, a rumbling bass and distorted, buried vocals, but the feedbacked guitars feel a little more controlled and restrained, and the heavier use of piano allows a more instant, conventional song to emerge. 'The End of the Line' is even better, a more relaxed song, which retains impetus in the rolling, descending basslines but feels beautifully woozy and enveloping, and evokes fellow Americans Seely. The song again conjures surprise with the introduction of a glorious, soaring guitar line near the end.

'All You Need To Know', though, probably trumps both. With nods to Monoland in the atmospheric guitar-delays, the song barely breaks sweat above a walking pace, allowing the melodies and instrumentation to breathe. It's a beautiful, blissful, summery song which shows what the band are capable of if they just hold back once in a while.

Album closer 'Daylight' perhaps sums up the contrasting nature of the album. With Dead Can Dance and especially School of Seven Bells an influence in its oriental-tinged opening, the song rumbles along, only for the effects to be suddenly stripped, leaving a beautiful repeated vocal, barely-played bass and frenetic drums to continue the song. An ominous and looming, initially heavily-delayed, then fractious Wire-esque guitar joins as the vocal departs. It's quite similar to High Dependancy Unit's 'Schallblute' in the combination of bass and guitar; a deliriously affecting and almost despondent track which is the highlight of a strong album.

Like their previous output, it may take a little bit of effort to fish through the walls of noise to find the melodies but, thankfully, with To the Happy Few, they are here in abundance. This is a record that may seem a bit sprawling at first, but it duly rewards the repeat listener and is a welcome return for Medicine after far too many years away.

 

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