Music Review

Medicine – Silences

todaySeptember 1, 2023 364 2 5

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By – James P. Fahy

You’re familiar with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, right? The Beatles album?

It’s kind of a big deal. Musically, of course, but also in terms of design: The cover art — which features a pantheon of pop culture greats (circa 1967) — has proven itself to be as iconic as the music itself, conjuring countless imitators and parodies. 

I have no idea how avowed Beatles fan Brad Laner — the mastermind behind stalwart Los Angeles avant garde rock band Medicine — rates Groucho Marx or Winston Churchill, but he certainly considers composer Karlheinze Stockhausen (he’s on the top row — fifth from left) to be a Heavy Dude: His influence looms as large as the Fabs on Medicine’s frenetic, jubilant, and brilliant new album, Silences. 

Stockhuasen’s audacious music is compelled by the visceral power of sound. An electronic music pioneer, the works of Stockhausen made novel use of noise, Musique concrète, and spatiality. There’s melody, too, but he was even more in love with the clanging of metal, radio signals, synthesis, and tape loops — he even went so far as to write a string quartet involving four helicopters. The Beatles loved him — and many of their classic psychedelic works, particularly “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “I Am The Walrus”, and “Revolution 9” bare his influence. The same holds true with Medicine.

Medicine’s debut, 1992’s Shot Forth Self Living, introduced the band as America’s first real answer to Shoegaze, but they were always much more than that. Other than loud, fuzzed-out guitars, languid male-female harmonies, and dance-oriented grooves, Medicine eschewed the boilerplate gauze of Shoegaze for raucous noise and Summer of Love melodies — they are as much Einstürzende Neubauten as The Mamas and The Papas. 

Silences perfectly binds Laner’s love of pop and noise in an easily-digestible 42-minute blast. Medicine’s catalog has always contained songs that are pure sugar, but they’ve released an album so consistently fun. While there’s nothing in the way of obvious singles like “Never Click” or “Time Baby III” (their best known song thanks to its inclusion on The Crow soundtrack), Silences brims with a fizzy euphoria that’s been bottled up, shaken up, and let loose. 

The title is a feint: Silences is unrelentingly packed with sound. While Laner’s guitar — which he famously runs through an overdriven Tascam cassette 4-track — still emits plenty of skronk, Silences finds him more interested in using his instrument to carve out buoyant, loping melodies that sound like an orchestra blaring out of a shredded speaker. This is especially evident on the album’s second track,  “Hey Hey Go Away”, which, along with the following song, “Dismay” makes Silences’ Beatles-Stockhausen meld salient thanks to an abundance of electronic bloops (Laner is a modular synthesizer enthusiast), unusual vocal harmonies (courtesy of new vocalist Julia Monreal), disorienting edits, and Jim Goodall’s muscular, martial drumming. Laner is an ace bassist, too, and his McCartney-esque playing keeps the songs playful even when they reach maximum density. “Sail On”, for example, practically steals its groove from War’s “Low Rider”.

As with Medicine’s 2022 album, Drugs, Silences was written around Goodall’s drums. He laid down all of his tracks first and Laner wrote the rest of the music around them. This approach has clearly invigorated the duo: Goodall’s playing is creative, energetic, bashy, and very prominent in the mix. He’s the engine of the album — and his exuberant performance has giddily inspired Laner’s compositional gifts. Goodall’s playing on “Looking for Silences” is particularly bananas. 

Silences is Medicine’s fifth album since reactivating the band in 2013 after an almost 20 year hiatus. Each of these records have steered clear of imitating their 90s output, opting instead to take advantage of pristine digital production that keeps the noise front-and-center while gleefully playing with the stereo field to dizzying results. Each of these records has been an improvement on what came before, but Silences is miles above the rest. No one would expect for a Medicine album in these dark times to sound so joyful, but I am here for it.

 

Purchase this record exclusively from Brad HERE

Written by: jamric

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