2. Medicine - Shot Forth Self Living
(Def American, 1992)
The reason Medicine's debut LP was a commercial failure is apparent as soon as you press "play." Lead-off track "One More" begins with an huge, ear-splitting squall of guitar feedback that loops and builds for a full minute before a simple bassline and drumbeat fade into the mix. It then takes another 90 seconds for anything resembling a melody to begin, and even when it does, it's just a huge, layered pile of the same noise and feedback folding in on itself over and over like an origami puzzle. An uncompromising, nine-minute opening track undoubtedly led a bunch of critics and casual listeners to throw the disc in the shitcan before checking out the rest of the songs. What they missed out on was a classic set of beautiful noise by Brad Laner and his ramshackle band of musical miscreants.
Sounds a bit like My Bloody Valentine, does it? True, the influence is impossible to escape. The cooing, mumbled male/female vocals, sculpted noise, and machine-driven dance beats are straight outta Glasgow, but this isn't navel-inspecting UK shoegaze. Nah, this is what I would call "stargaze": a uniquely American sound born out of the gutters and alleyways hidden behind California glitz and palm trees. Each song reaches for beauty and optimism and looks to the heavens for inspiration and release. Album centerpiece "A Short Happy Life" sums it up perfectly. Vocalist Beth Thompson sings about crawling across the floor for what? Love? Drugs? Sunlight? Who knows. Her voice is buried underneath a massive blanket of reverb and blends into the mix. The song pulses and builds for over five minutes before Laner unloads with an epic, triumphant ascending riff that repeats until the track fades out. The result is honestly astonishing.
After hearing Shot Forth Self Living, you would probably assume Laner used a bathtub full of effects and processors to get all the ridiculous guitar tones and noises scattered all over the album. I was shocked to find out that everything was created by running his beat-up guitar through a wah-wah pedal into a 4 track recorder. Just dig this obnoxious riff from the track "Defective." It cuts through the hi-hat-heavy dance beat and swirling layers of echoing feedback like a dentist's drill. By the end of the song, the riff is brutally chopped to the first three notes looped over and over, and it goes on almost to the point of madness. Coming right before America's love affair with Nirvana and everything alternative, and after the UK moved on from shoegaze to Britpop, Medicine's debut fell between the cracks. It is currently out of print, but easy to find in used bins.
Check back tomorrow for the final three entries on the list! Hell yeah!