When I was in ninth grade, and took my first high-school music class, the teacher – a portly fellow who I thought looked a lot like Andy Partridge from XTC – explained to us what music really was. According to his definition, music was merely a collection of notes and rests. Nothing more to it. He did go on to say that this meant that this concept of what music is could go to extremes. He used, as an example, the “music” of John Cage, who created a piece called “4′ 33″” where the performer during its first public unveiling in 1952, David Tudor, merely sat at a piano for precisely four minutes and 33 seconds unmoving and never touching the keys, just opening and closing the piano lid to mark the beginning and end of certain movements over the duration of the song, which was, naturally, silent save for ambient noise in the environment of which it was played.
My music teacher didn’t agree that this was music. Performance art, maybe; music, no. You need notes as well as rests, my teacher argued. Had I known then what I know now, I wonder what he would have thought of the music of Frank Zappa, who wrote a composition called “The Black Page” that is full of notes and oddball rhythms played over different time signatures, and is notoriously complex to play. (Ironically enough, Zappa would record a version of “4′ 33″”.) Anyhow, so I was taught that music is basically notes and rests, but not too many notes and not too many rests. There needs to be an equilibrium at work.
So Medicine comes along with their second post-reformation album Home Everywhere, which follows last year’s generally well-regarded To the Happy Few, their first album in 18 years, and, when you listen to it for the first time, you have to wonder … is this music? There are certainly notes, many of them, and, sure, there are rests. But even though To the Happy Few was quite abrasive, the album had melodies that clearly rose to the fore. Home Everywhere, seemingly so named because the band chose to stay at home and record rather than go on a lengthy tour, is, on the other hand, pushed much more further into the red.
There are songs, sure, but you really have to work at hearing them. In fact, the very first time I listened to this record, I thought it was white noise – not music at all. You really have to give this many, many replays before the bits of the songs coalesce and it suddenly begins to make a lot more sense. And the album arguably straddles many different genres, from the obvious (noise-rock) to things such as shoegazer, psychedelia and electronica. To that end, that sense of adventure and discovery makes Home Everywhere a worthwhile listen. Eventually. You really do have to give this LP many, many second chances though, because your first instinct upon hearing this is to recoil in fear and horror. Clearly, this is not the same band that I remember from The Crow soundtrack.
In fact, opening song “The Reclaimed Girl” starts out with a psychedelic racket before transmuting into a rather Beatles-esque number, albeit a rather blurry one at that. The song ping-pongs between these elements, and, indeed, it may try your patience. “Turning”, the next track, at least has a funky cymbal line going for it, making it debatably the most obvious “song” on the album. It’s memorable, and it is the one moment on the record that sounds like it could have easily been placed on To the Happy Few. “Move Along – Down the Road” is the album’s overt nod to shoegaze, with barely discernible vocals and fuzzed out guitar theatrics. However, the song is layered and multi-tracked with various overdubs and there is a point where it sounds like two competing songs are trying to attract your attention at the same time.
“Cold Life” is a stab at ’60s revisionist pop in the vein of a Redd Kross, with effects providing an unstable undercurrent to the song. “Don’t Be Slow” would be another pop song, but bits of something different get spliced into the mix, making it utterly unsettling. Basically, from there, things built to the climatic title track, 11-and-a-half minutes long. Essentially, the song has been described in the press notes as an “album within an album” and is what you get when you graft a whole whack of ideas together as the song shifts many times. Listening to it is like trying to hold onto an eel. Honestly, it’s the sort of thing that’s probably best appreciated under the influence of illicit drugs, and it is expansive and mind blowing. Not that I would know personally about the drugs part, but that’s just to give you an idea where the song’s headspace seems to be at.
Home Everywhere is a brave record, one that you have to be patient with. However, the band sometimes overdoes it with the various overdubs and effects to a point where the songs tip over into garish territory. And, candidly, this is something that is not pure pop bliss – the point of comparison I would make is to the Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat, just without all the pirate stories. Like that LP, Medicine is pushing itself further and further, trying to create music that isn’t typical, but yet retains some element of catchiness. It’s a tough feat to pull off, and the trio doesn’t always succeed, especially given, too, that hearing this album for the first time is one big WTF? moment. While this is a natural extension of To the Lucky Few, especially that album’s final song, “Daylight”, Medicine is really pushing the boundary as to what is considered music by adding textures and layers to their sound. You won’t believe this is three people working together; Home Everywhere is a virtual kitchen-sink orchestra.
So, even when the group falls flat on its face, you have to concede that boundaries are being pushed, making the whole exercise feel rather transgressive in feel. Maybe this is the future of pop music, who knows? Still, you do have to have a shed of melody or harmony to keep things grounded, and there are times when Medicine goes way out in left field – and, without a guide, the group’s reach exceeds its grasp. Still, for all of that, Home Everywhere is worth hearing for its experimentation. Maybe the next record will invent something new, something not even music, and herald the ushering into a great unknown. It’s a good, if not interesting, garden path to go down, and Medicine is undoubtedly leading the way.