After I heard My Bloody Valentine carve beauty out of violent guitar noise and make vibrant feedback sound like heaven, I — much like the realm of indie-rock — was never the same. Not since or ever again will dozens of layered guitars sputtering and vomiting feedback sound so gossamer and ethereal. After Loveless turned my ear inside out, I began ravaging the shoegaze scene of the early ’90s to locate Kevin Shields’s kindred spirits. And I came up empty.
It wasn’t until years later that a friend sat me down in his cramped apartment and put on an album he knew I had been searching for: Medicine’s The Buried Life. What I found was a lost world of serrated and treated guitars, gauzy vocals, and the appropriate follow-up to ’91’s Loveless. But what made The Buried Life an ambitious effort and anything but another Kevin Shields tribute album was the keener sense of pop preening and an element of technology and electronic beats that remained largely vacant from My Bloody Valentine’s discography. After that album was released in 1994, Medicine fell from this planet and ceased to exist.
Enter 2003: Brad Laner (Medicine’s instrumental mastermind) and Shannon Lee (vocalist and daughter of Bruce Lee) regroup and resurrect Medicine with much of its previous shoegaze elements stripped to its core while simultaneously extracting all the sonic aspects that raised Medicine above the droves of typical shoegazers: electro, tech, and pure pop. The Mechanical Forces of Love, 2003’s edition to the Medicine musical bibliography, is stark in its contrast to the noise and feedback of The Buried Life, and although on first listen the differences between Mechanical Forces and its predecessor appear genres wide, its lineage actually makes perfect sense.
As Laner has matured, evolved and honed his musical craft through various projects during Medicine’s nine year dormancy, Mechanical Forces now stands on the legs of pop goodness, electro beats, and funky rhythms. While Medicine previously hid those elements under a guitar-centric sound, Laner now fully examines them. The opening track to The Mechanical Forces of Love enters with exactly those sonic nuts and bolts: “As You Do” elicits tech-pop that bounces and bubbles through your stereo with an undeniably upbeat guise.
Laner now distills his former main musical ingredients — guitars, feedback and noise — to the mere background of Medicine. Many tracks on Mechanical Forces utilize such components on the periphery and only as a backdrop to the pop melodies and shapeshifting beats. Laner hasn’t exactly forgotten The Buried Life, it’s just obscured and masked and torn apart to fit into his more up to date tech-pop scheme.
Medicine’s best example of its new and expansive pop sound enters with “Best Future” as a truly gorgeous melody is overlaid atop sunny guitar fuzz, acoustics, and playful beats. But even “Best Future” isn’t giving Laner his best future. Not that his latest album is poor — quite the opposite in fact. It’s just that The Mechanical Forces of Love is a more conventional — if still quality — record that feels as if Laner is backtracking to reexamine his past and reinterpret it instead of creating something wholly new.