edicine emerged at the start of the 90s as common-or-garden shoegazers. Since then Brad Laner has deigned his shoes uninteresting enough for prolonged examination and has begun seeking out new ways to address, create, and enhance the psychedelic experience, culminating in his vacation into laptop territory for his recent solo material. The Mechanical Forces of Love sees Laner interpolate his recent experiments into his pre-established Medicine aesthetic with frustratingly varied degrees of success. Comparisons have been made with Manitoba’s fast-becoming epochal Up In Flames, but where Dan Snaith is a laptronica prodigy moving into new sonic territory by acquiring and abusing guitars, vocals, and psychedelic touches, Laner is an old shoegazer moving in the opposite direction, and while he is obviously keen on what his new electronic tricks can do he also seems occasionally uncomfortable with actually implementing them. As such The Mechanical Forces of Love sounds less like a toy box come to life than one tipped onto the floor.
Manitoba trades less in songs than electronic pieces that resemble songs because of the palette they’re painted with, whereas Laner appears to have constructed a set of songs and then embellished them with technology almost to the point of overkill. Shannon Lee’s presence on vocals gives an air of 60s girl-group sophistication and bliss which fits the old shoegazer trick of masking simple bubblegum pop with layers of feedback and guitar effects, but at times her presence is invasive, especially considering the sometimes awful lyrics she’s asked to deliver. “Wet On Wet” sees her intoning the refrain “you’ll taste my poison / if you should try and fu-u-u-uck me / try and fuck me”, becoming almost unbearably cringe worthy by the end of the song, which also pilfers part of its arrangement liberally from Primal Scream’s “Higher Than The Sun”.
Too often during The Mechanical Forces of Love it sounds as if Laner has gathered a wonderful set of sounds and placed them in the wrong order, but when he occasionally gets it right the results can be tantalizingly brilliant. When the reassuringly existential “Best Future” gets going its hazy layers of sound and shuffling drums are carried wonderfully by Lee’s vocals, and “I M Yrs” is a terrific slice of subtle, shimmering psychedelic house that manages to balance the widening capabilities of technology with Laner’s synaesthetic intentions. The 12 songs on The Mechanical Forces of Love are sonically loaded and demanding of attention, yet Laner leaves little space or absence among them to add context and reason.
It’s enticing and positive that people like Brad Laner are embracing the possibilities of technology so enthusiastically, but in order for it to work effectively there needs to be a much greater understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the new musical areas being created. Medicine’s new album is a hyperactive and clumsy step in the right direction.