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Medicine: The Buried Life (1993)

August 8, 2013

Medicine Buried Life artwork

Roll: 4-2-15
Album: Medicine: The Buried Life (2CD reissue)

In my previous post on Lilys I detailed how in 1992, late to the party, I got the shoegaze bug. Once I was infected, I started dosing myself with all the albums where My Bloody Valentine were mentioned in the reviews. Taking this metaphor to its logical conclusion, I should now say Medicine‘s The Buried Life was the cure for my new affliction but, if anything, the album made me a terminal case.

In 1988, if some reviewer was going to describe MBV’s Isn’t Anything, they might have said it was a combination of Cocteau Twins’ dreamy atmospherics and The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s primitive white-noise pop. That would be an apt appraisal but it even better describes the extremes of Medicine’s music.

In a  way, the whole shoegaze genre is based on extremes. The softest voices over the loudest guitars; lulling melodies backed by anxious, nails-on-chalkboard feedback; pure bubblegum pop obfuscated by distorted reverb; a heady regard for psychedelia yet a punky rejection of “classic rock” cliches.

Medicine took these extremes further than anyone else. The first twelve seconds of “The Pink” that open the album are as unpleasant a racket as anything the most avant garde noise artist ever created. The dentist-drill-etching-a-cracked-mirror guitar sound teeters on the point of torture then, just before your endurance runs out, the track blossoms into one of the most sugary dream-pop numbers ever recorded. The shrill guitar tone continues throughout, but the agony never detracts from the ecstasy of the songs but, instead, heightens it.

If there’s a cut-off point for the golden age of shoegaze, it’s probably somewhere in 1993. That year saw Slowdive‘s Souvlaki and The Swirlies’ Blonder Tongue Audio Baton—two of the last landmark albums released before the major-hitters in the genre started to veer off in various standard rock (Ride, Lilys, Lush) and dance (Chapterhouse, Curve) directions or just go into hiding for 20 years (MBV).

The third and most import and of these final shoegaze classics has to be The Buried Life. I’d make the case this album is the pinnacle of the entire genre simply because they took the sonic extremes to their endpoint. You simply can’t make guitars sound more grating, shrill and aggressively challenging than they are here. Brad Laner‘s guitar spends a lot more time sounding like one of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s power drills than a musical instrument.

Conversely, not too many people have written pop songs more full of sunshine and rainbows than you’ll find on the album. Performed by The Breeders a song like “Never Click” could have been a bona fide hit. After this album there was nowhere else, for anyone, to go.

When the shoegaze revivalists started to emerge five or six years later, bands like Pia Fraus, Air Formation and Experimental Aircraft backed away from these extremes and generally stuck to the Loveless/Souvlaki template. After all, that’s really what most people want from their shoegaze—more Loveless.

And though I somewhat lament that no one (even Medicine*) took up The Buried Life‘s torch and made simultaneously harsher and more beautiful noise-pop, I’m not sure I need another album like this in my life.

It’s a singular achievement and that’s okay.

But if I did (and maybe I do) need more, this Captured Tracks reissue adds a second disc of demos, b-sides and out-takes.  Just what the doctor ordered, but unfortunately, the second disc is sequenced a little haphazardly with the brilliant-to-listenable material scattered between pointless-to-unlistenable lo-fi archival documents. If you’re a fan you wouldn’t have wanted any of it omitted, but a little playlist editing is required for listening enjoyment.

* Coincidentally, this week Medicine released a new long-player which is reportedly in the vein of their first two albums, so perhaps they’ve upped the ante and proved me wrong. I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy.

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