I think one of my absolute favorite musical discoveries of the last few years is the band Medicine. There’s something about the way they made pop songs into something righteously loud, discordant, and abrasive but never lost that magic ingredient: melody. Their first two albums, Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life, were both these incredibly diverse musical worlds where pure pop music collided with experimental noise, dream pop, and some of the more trance-like parts of shoegaze. Though, if you listen to those heavy dance beats there was more of the Madchester scene in Medicine’s DNA than say My Bloody Valentine, Ride, or Chapterhouse. Let it be known though, Medicine guitarist, songwriter, and singer Brad Laner created a guitar sound that could’ve easily fit into the Kevin Shields sound catalog, except I think Laner was a little more precise than even Shields(ooh, controversy!). His buzzsaw tone on those first couple records has been borrowed time and time again over the years, and yet he never gets the credit he so deserves(in an interview I had with him I’d made mention that Trent Reznor seemed to had adopted that Medicine guitar tone on The Downward Spiral and Mr. Laner didn’t disagree.) Brad Laner seemed to be pulling influences from everywhere and running those influences through a filter that made Medicine’s sound totally unique to them.
So if Medicine were so unique, why did it take me 20 years to find out about them? Hell if I know, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, really. I discovered their album via Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks record label in early 2013. By that summer Medicine had reunited and had put their first album out in nearly 20 years with the original line-up of Laner, Beth Thompson, and Jim Goodall. To The Happy Few took those harsh guitar tones and dance-y beats and honed them down to their true essence. The result was this hybrid of dream and noise pop with almost jazz-like vocal arrangements and harmonies. The reunion gave us one more Medicine record, the 2014 masterpiece Home Everywhere.
When Home Everywhere came out I preordered the limited edition version(of course I did) that came with Brad Laner’s score for the shoegaze documentary Beautiful Noise. I was just as excited to get that soundtrack as I was Home Everywhere I think, as it was just Brad Laner creating these sound collages of both peaceful, dreamy passages and also harsher, biting moments of noise. Some were older pieces he’d created over the years, while some were created specifically for the film.
Have I seen Beautiful Noise? No I haven’t and I feel bad about that. I have every intention of purchasing a copy of it so I can watch it as much as I want whenever the mood strikes me. I’m a fan of shoegaze, though I think the term has been overused over the years. And really, I don’t consider Medicine to be a shoegaze band. Despite that, I think Brad Laner did an amazing job curating these sounds for the film. All that’s left for me to do is watch the movie so I can hear these pieces in action. Cause that’s what it’s all about, the action. Am I right?
Listening to the score Laner created is a dizzying experience. It’s mostly these avante garde pieces of noise. Paint splotches dropped continuously on a music canvas, so much so that the layers of color start to become something completely different from when it started. His approach here is like a noisier version of Brian Eno’s ambient works. If Eno had been obsessed with guitar, buzzing amps, and effects boxes this is the stuff we would’ve heard from him in the late 70s/early 80s. I don’t know for certain if everything you hear on this score is Laner and guitar or not. If I was told it was guitar and keyboards I’d believe it. If I was told it was just guitar through a mile of pedals and rackmount effects processors I’d believe that, too. That’s the beauty of the work here. Laner captures the essence of the shoegaze movement perfectly with his musical patchwork. There’s a feeling of druggy wooziness with the temporal lobe stabbing spikes of sheer guitar squall following right behind. He’s not aping shoegaze bands here, either. He’s not creating some generic roll call of MBV-like noise or Ride-ish riffs; this is a lathe cut of original hazy noise that not even your best pharmaceuticals could come close to.
One thing I’m curious about is the production. Overall these tracks are pretty lo-fi sounding. Sort of muddy and distant for the most part. There are a couple moments where Laner has a beat layered and quieter melodies laid on top, but for the most part if I was told this was recorded directly to Maxell 90 minute cassette tapes to a Tascam 424 Portastudio I’d totally buy that. I’d totally love that, too. Brad Laner does some seriously experimental work with Medicine’s drummer Jim Goodall in the cassette-only releases of Debt of Nature. That’s early Sebadoh territory without any of the songs and all the field recordings and random noise. I suppose it doesn’t matter how this soundtrack was recorded. I’m just really nosy that way.
I don’t know how available this album is anymore, since it was only sold with the Medicine Home Everywhere LP. If you dig ambient music with touches of Metal Machine Music, Brian Eno, and even Adrian Belew’s Desire Caught By The Tail, as well as his work on NINs Ghosts I-IV, then I say you should get on that laptop thing and plunk around till you can find a copy of this. It’s well worth your time.