When an experience is described as “interesting,” it could be equally tribute or backhand slag — which makes it the ideal term to describe this alternately fascinating and pretentious Los Angeles outfit. Before forming Medicine in early 1991, guitarist/vocalist Brad Laner was a late-’80s member of Savage Republic, a band that fused modern classical-cum-industrial rock electronic drones with exotic ethnic components.
Shot Forth Self Living is an exceedingly uneasy marriage of unequivocally horrible noise and dreamy drone-pop, and the two elements wrangle in virtually every one of its songs. “Aruca” begins with 30 seconds (although grouches might tab it as closer to a week) of garbage-disposal roar that gives way to feedback-enhanced dance-pop layered with beckoning, submerged vocals by Beth Thompson (ex-Fourwaycross). The layering process is even more prominent in “One More,” a breathtakingly loud nine-minute exploration of guitar texture that encloses a core of ethereal post-My Bloody Valentine pop. An auspicious debut.
Medicine pared down from a quintet to a trio (Laner, Thompson and drummer Jim Goodall) shortly before recording The Buried Life, leaving Laner as sole guitarist. Although the effect isn’t dramatic, the album is less identifiably rock. Both “Slut” and “The Pink” are cut from the same dance-noise cloth as parts of Shot Forth Self Living, but simply lack the edge of earlier material. Goodall adds some clever tape effects to several songs, but Laner seems content to coast, trotting out a few of his showier axe-manipulation tricks without bothering to find them tenable contexts. “Never Click” is a bracing splash of Jesus and Mary Chain-styled fuzz-rock, though. Van Dyke Parks arranged and plays piano on “Live It Down.”
Sounds of Medicine (subtitled Stripped and Reformed Sounds) is the band’s answer to the now-obligatory remake/remodel collection. Medicine’s twist? Have producers like Billy Corgan and Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie simplify the band’s often dizzying sonic infrastructures — a task Guthrie fudges by calling in bandmate Liz Fraser to provide backing vocals on “Time Baby 3.” “Little Miss Drugstore” and “Little Slut” are merely slivers of songs that appeared, respectively, on the first two albums. There’s a new song (“Zelzah”) and, as a bonus for true discordophiles, “Lime 6,” sixteen live minutes of pealing feedback skronk.
Her Highness begins with Laner refracting some lustrous guitar rays at the onset of “All Good Things,” but that encouraging invocation soon gives way to a mishmash of listless psychedelia (“A Fractured Smile”) and sub-Siouxsie pop trifles (“Candy Candy”). Those of a charitable disposition might call Her Highness the sound of a band treading water, but its overall feel is so lifeless that there seems to be no disputing the fact that Medicine has already gone down. The group broke up in early ’96.
Ed Ruscha and Jim Putnam, the bassist and guitarist who bailed out of Medicine after the first album, picked up the thread of an old home-recording group they once had and launched Maids of Gravity with drummer Craig “Irwin” Levitz. The group’s unassuming debut — which seems a little anonymous but is actually quite enticing once you get to know it — disassembles shoegazer pop into a dreamy slo-blo excursion that floats lazily through a quiet “Cowgirl in the Sand” canyon but occasionally erupts in glorious flaming balls of Crazy Horse distortion and drive.