Captured Tracks has done the world a favor by giving it another chance to hear Medicine, a band that was Shot Forth Self Living but almost got obscured by The Buried Life.
The Sounds of Medicine were the sounds of life being made, of life being born, then the beautiful sounds of life evolving and descending into decay. The sounds of Medicine were the sounds of the chaos of existence wearing upon one’s soul, and death and decomposition into the next state.
Formed in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley in the early 1990s by guitarist Brad Laner (who had done time in Savage Republic), Medicine included Jim Goodall on drums (who had worked with Laner in John Cage-inspired noise projects Debt of Nature and Severed Head in a Bag, and toured and done session work with The Flying Burrito Brothers and Arthur Lee) and Beth Thompson, a former singer for Fourwaycross, which the band’s label bio described as “local atmospheric bloom rockers.”
In their original incarnation, and as recorded on their first full-length album, 1992’s Shot Forth Self Living, the band was a quintet, rounded out by bassist Eddie Ruscha (son of painter Edward Ruscha) and guitarist Jim Putnam (also a painter). But by the time of the follow-up’s release in 1993, Ruscha had left to form Maids of Gravity, taking Putnam with him (although Thompson contributed vocals to their debut, so surely it was an amicable departure), thus leaving the core trio to carry on as Medicine on The Buried Life (supplemented live by guitarist Bernard Yin and bassist Dean Opseth).
Courtesy of Captured Tracks’ Shoegaze Archives, both records (and a remix EP) received the boxed set treatment, released to coincide with this April’s Record Store Day. It’s an ambitious and apparently comprehensive collection that includes unreleased tracks, demos and live recordings, lovingly compiled by Laner. Although from the outside it resembles a big black box with only the band’s name and a red waveform design on the outside, on the inside both LPs are reprised in double album form with the debut pressed in blue transparent vinyl and the sophomore outing in pink opaque vinyl in sleeves that feature much of the original artwork.
Also included is a single black vinyl reissue of The Sounds Of Medicine, a six-song EP also originally issued by the band’s label, American, featuring remixes by Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (drums by Jimmy Chamberlain) and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins (with gorgeous backing vocals by Elizabeth Fraser). Download codes are included, as are the lyric/credit booklets that will no doubt be forthcoming with a CD issue, a nifty Medicine pin, a promotional photo, and a collection of live recordings from 1992-1994, entitled Always Starting To Stop—on an audio cassette. All that’s missing is an eight-track for the proverbial format hat trick.
One of those aforementioned live recordings was done on an April evening in 1994 at Chicago’s Metro, when the band opened for Swervedriver (Thompson and Swervedriver’s drummer, Jez Hindmarsh became an item at some point). Having interviewed Laner previously when they headlined the (now long-shuttered) Lounge Ax on a different tour, he seemed a little surprised to see me show up to interview him that night, but I told him my objective was to write a book on the band (chalk it up to youthful hubris).
When I asked if he remembers claiming to me that his goal was to record “the greatest album ever,” he responds: “Heh, let’s chalk that up to youthful hubris. I’d alter that now to endlessly aiming to make the most interesting albums that I’m capable of at any given time.”
The only reason Medicine’s third album was not included in the boxed set, according to Laner, is “because it felt like the whole thing was already too big. There’s a ton of extra material for Her Highness in my “archives” (closet), so we may very well do that one in a similar fashion at some point in the future.” Indeed, upon purchase, the cassette and pin had to be rubber-banded on the box, since those pieces themselves wouldn’t fit inside.
Laner, although the band’s auteur to a certain extent, is quick to give credit to the owner of Captured Tracks, Mike Sniper, for making this boxed set happen. Sniper had contacted Laner last year and asked if he’d be interested.
“I was, but it wasn’t my decision to make. Fortunately Sniper convinced American Recordings to allow us to do anything we wanted within the physical realm. So I spent a couple of months emptying out boxes of old magazines and tapes and generally diving down the Medicine rabbit hole in order to make these reissues as thorough as possible for both the casual listener and the hardcore fan.
Many (in the milieu of college radio, anyway) saw Medicine as America’s answer to My Bloody Valentine, and although they had toured with the Valentines, Laner had taken great pains to distance themselves from the British quartet who produced that 1991 lynchpin of the “shoegaze” genre, Loveless. He argued at the time that they had not been influenced by My Bloody Valentine, citing free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler as more of an influence. When asked if he’s afraid that Medicine will again be overshadowed by MBV, given the recent news of remasters and rumors of a new EP, he say he’s “not afraid of that because it’s inevitable. They’re infinitely more popular than Medicine.” But, he hastens to add, the Medicine “reissues wipe the floor with theirs in every way, though.”
Indeed, time and attention have helped to further delineate the differences between the two ensembles, although a certain sonic similarity is readily apparent. Where My Bloody Valentine smoothed out all of their edges and crafted a whirring roar, Medicine was all about the shards of abrasiveness, and the beautiful melodies that could break through despite the echoing echelons of the sounds of shattered stained glass. With the Medicine box, there’s more than enough ammo to blast the comparisons away, and while it can be a difficult and dissonant listen, the sheer passion and deconstructive power that gets channeled into crafting the beautiful sounds that eventually spring forth is inspiring and makes one wistful for the chance to see the band together playing live again one day.
Laner says he’s still in touch with his former bandmates to varying degrees, and they’re all still making music (Thompson, for one, has reunited with a former bandmate in Fourwaycross, Steve Gerdes, and formed the Shway). When asked if there will ever be a Medicine reunion, Laner says, simply, “Maybe!” When asked how his life has changed since the band ended, he responds, “In every possible way, probably. That’s was 17 years ago, mind you! I’m certainly a much more together, happy person now. “
For now, Laner plans on making some more solo and collaborative records (his most recent solo outing, Natural Selections, was released on Hometapes in 2010), produce, do guest appearances (he’s on the latest M83 record) “and cook and drive for my kid for at least 10 more years!” He’s certainly not planning to rest on his laurels, having assembled this Medicine box set, regardless of whether it’s recognized as the wonderful work of art it is or an outdated relic of the ’90s. As he says, “you’re never done learning and growing.”