Medicine: Home Everywhere

Onstage during a Hollywood Bowl concert last year, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez talked about how the veteran L.A. dream-pop band Medicine had influenced his music. Then he brought out Medicine’s leader Brad Laner to sing with him on M83’s “Splendor”—which makes sense, seeing as how Laner guests on the 2011 studio version of the song. The gesture was a small one in the grand scheme of things—it’s a safe bet few in the audience recognized the name—but it’s also indicative of Medicine’s less than enviable position over the years: a band loved, respected, and imitated by musicians, but minimally acknowledged beyond that. Like many groups in existence during the alt-rock free-for-all of the ’90s, Medicine had its shot at fame; signed to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, they appeared on the chart-topping soundtrack for The Crow (and in the movie itself, along with Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser). When that lottery ticket didn’t pan out, the band broke up in the ’90s, then reformed for their 2013 comeback album To The Happy Few. But where To The Happy Few feasted on Medicine’s legacy with a desperate yet stately elation, the band’s new full-length, Home Everywhere, just sounds desperate.

Home Everywhere is a mess. It isn’t always a bad mess, but far too often, it is. Where To The Happy Few exercised impeccable taste and restraint in its attempt to probe every overblown trope of shoegaze and space-pop, Home Everywhere piles them on. And on and on and on. The panning from left to right is juddering, spasmodic, panicky. Worse, it works against the melodic euphoria Laner excels at; a little deconstruction goes a long way, and Laner’s lost the plot. Songs like “The Reclaimed Girl” and “Move Along – Down The Road” aren’t psychedelic, as that would imply at least the possibility of bliss. Instead, Laner pumps so many samples, filters, noisemakers, and modulators into the mix, the band’s own instrumental source material is treated like something that should be anxiously covered up.

Of course, it shouldn’t; there are great tunes poking out of the tangle, or at least great fragments of tunes. Too many of them in rapid succession, actually, or all at once. Laner’s longtime cohort Elizabeth Thompson twines her ethereal voice wonderfully around his on “Don’t Be Slow”; still, it’s not enough of a lifeline to cling to as the music boils and manically pans around them. Making music that sounds like an orchestra of malfunctioning transistor radios at once is a noble pursuit, and one that My Bloody Valentine consummated triumphantly; MBV have always been one of Medicine’s biggest inspirations, and that hasn’t changed on Home Everywhere. But where MBV—and Medicine, at their best—nervily harness those smears and blurs, “Turning” renders that lovely paradox of abrasive dreaminess into stabs of spectroscopic strobe lights, garbage-disposal bass, and self-sampling to the point of bleary-eyed myopia. It doesn’t come off as experimental, any more than it would to dump every chemical on the lab floor to see what happens.

When Home Everywhere takes a deep breath, though, it’s incredible. “Cold Life” is spacious, dynamic, and eerily backmasked, or at least backmasking is the aural illusion that Laner is trying and winning at evoking. It’s a gentle queasiness, and it’s made all the more absorbing by Laner’s flowing, melancholy vocals, even though he sounds like he’s brazenly mimicking Elliott Smith for some reason. Similarly, “They Will Not Die” and “It’s All About You” reign in the album’s sensory overload, daubing it sparingly from time to time for maximum impact. At over 11 minutes, the album’s cosmic-jam title track doesn’t justify its sprawl; it’s over about halfway through, but someone forget to tell the band that. At this point in Medicine’s existence, they’ve earned the right to get as excessive as they want—and in a way, it’s thrilling to see a group that’s been around so long continue to go for broke with rapturous self-indulgence. Home Everywhere has every element needed to make a great Medicine album, only they’re deployed in gangling spasms and obsessive over-processing. If only they’d edited themselves a little more—or a little less.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork

A Winged Victory for the Sullen: ATOMOS

Wayne McGregor has great taste in ambient music. I saw his piece FAR a couple years ago, and hearing Ben Frost‘s delicate yet concussive score, then unreleased, was as rich a part of the experience as watching the dance. McGregor has also commissioned music from the likes of Max Richter (Sum and Infra) and Ólafur Arnalds (Dyad 1909), and you can add to that list A Winged Victory for the Sullen, a collaboration between Stars of the Lid‘s Adam Wiltzie and pianist Dustin O’Halloran. Their score for ATOMOS recasts the elegant sound of their 2011 debut for McGregor’s purposes, with pensive melancholy shading into physical menace.

If Stars of the Lid’s music sounds like a hollowed-out 100-piece ensemble with ether for its innards, AWVFTS is the opposite. Made from strings, piano, the occasional horn, and electric guitars processed into ambient washes and scrawls, it’s all inner voices coiled together, more classical than drone. The music is recorded in large spaces, so that between natural acoustic and electronic effects, every instrument seems to float in an ocean-sized force field of harmonic resonance. Minimal melodic information carries maximal tone, the few voices somehow resplendently full and forlornly isolated at once. 

McGregor choreographs for a leading modern company, London’s Royal Ballet, and, occasionally, Thom Yorke. Rather than making his experimental work challenging and his traditional work beautiful, he makes all of his work both, building modern movement on ballet lines. This classically tempered novelty influences his musical commissions, where chamber music anchors electronic disturbances and asymmetrical structures. AWVFTS adapts, making ATOMOS louder and more mobile than its impeccably tentative predecessor—more volatile and disjointed, with basses you can feel in your body because this is for the body. The duo’s signature stasis is now packed with interior movement; particles swarm through drones like dancers suspended in stage lighting.

If the first album was basically slow-moving, deeply sonorous chamber music under a microscope, ATOMOS pumps up elements of discord and chaos. The duo’s usual minimalist classical core, formed somewhere between the sacred and nervy repetitions of Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass, is reshaped in accord with influential dance scorers Gavin Bryars and David Tudor. Slabs of hard, bright organ-like tones arc powerfully over dark crags of bass. Strings twist in relentless screw-like figures or creep forward in inexorably widening harmonies. Electronic guitar tones are more pronounced, forming rhythmic throughlines and pulses. Forbidding abstract landscapes rise up into plangent songs, sub-frequencies crumbling apart beneath them.

The best tracks, such as “I” and “VI”, wrangle these maneuvers into an anxious, dynamic, almost symphonic sweep. All the song titles are Roman numerals—too bad, as it deprives us of the duo’s unusually self-mocking song titles. Grandiose ambient musicians are not known for their sense of humor, so titles such as “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears”, “Requiem for the Static King” and, best of all, “We Played Some Open Chords” (they did!) were refreshing. But there’s still something curious about this tracklist. There is no “IV”. What went wrong? I like to imagine that one day this lost track will surface, and it will have a kazoo in it. For now, it brings a touch of mystery to a far better than average dance score that refines rather than suppresses the musical identity of its creators. Who will Wayne McGregor call on next? Tim Hecker‘s phone has got to be about to ring.  

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork