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Medications

Completely Removed

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Dischord

Maybe I’m alone in this, but my favorite era of Dischord wasn’t its hardcore beginning or its emo-core peak but instead the strange new territory it began to explore at the start of the 21st Century. This was a time when Fugazi proved to be weirdly prophetic with their sadly underrated The Argument, when Black Eyes and Q and Not U were quite possibly the two most forward-thinking bands of the time, with the former’s art noise skronk and percussive madness paving the way for whatever the hell Brooklyn is up to now and the latter getting hip to Prince’s back catalog before that became cool again. Medications are a welcome continuation of Dischord’s underestimated futurist tendencies, a skin graft of Islands’ playful fatalism on top of Q and Not U’s nervous dance moves.

On Completely Removed, Medications are revealed as a band that is both unafraid of being skilled musicians and completely aware of how easily that knowledge can turn into unlistenable bloat. Each track on the album is a tightrope act, the frenetic, multi-faceted guitars delicately navigating the waters between hook and wankery and mostly succeeding. This reaches its apex early on with the lulling “Long Day,” a track that proves that recalling Mark Knopfler isn’t always a fatal mistake. It helps that the rhythm is at the forefront, those cascading arpeggios less a glorious flourish and more a necessity, a motion to contrast with the bare beat of the kick before the drums themselves jump into genius territory as the guitars get simple.

Later, “We Could Be Others” is the Hold Steady if they were obsessed with XTC instead of The Boss, guitars satisfying in their crunch at first before they focus on a lead line that suddenly makes sense of Television’s influence on post-punk. And there’s that rhythmic interplay again, a trait lacking in so many groups. Medications know precisely when to drop the guitars and ride an easy beat, when to push it to 11 and drop back down to .5 and leave them wanting more. Like Pretty Girls Make Graves at their best, Medications make an art out of the interaction between skilled players, guitars trading blows with each other, bass and drums not necessarily together so much as egging each other on.

That musical banter is everywhere on the album, be it the Sparks-by-way-of-Supergrass stomp of “Rising to Sleep” or the Unicorns/Animal Collective hybrid that is “Country Air.” It’s perhaps what keeps the ego-stroking in check as well, as the only moment when the band veer into glorified jam band territory is the bland krautrock of “Kilometers and Smiles,” the lone misstep of the album outside of an unnecessary solo here and there.

What’s unfortunate is that Medications, like Q and Not U before them, are not of this moment. The music on Completely Removed isn’t exactly in fashion right now, the label they’re on still has a reputation ill-suited to the sounds they’re issuing and the landmark band half this group came from, Smart Went Crazy, was never exactly well-known to begin with. While all of this works against Medications from a standpoint of success, it’s also strangely comforting- Completely Removed feels like an album crafted outside of expectations, as though nothing was at stake except the members’ own satisfaction and that’s really for the best. Like Power before it, Completely Removed is probably destined for obscurity but to those who hear it, there’s a fair chance it’ll be similarly revelatory.

by Morgan Davis
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