Red Medicine’s eponymous debut album is a progressive and razor sharp trek through the last twenty years of experimental rock music.
These University of Maine at Farmington kids cut a wide swath through the legacies of math-rock and post-hardcore, picking up whatever strikes their fancy along the way and re-combining it all into a wildly explosive and colorful album full of surprises.
The most exciting facet of Red Medicine is the way they fuse ethereal passages of absolutely oddball guitar playing with frenzied and noisy full-band explosions.
“The Outer Rim” begins with three minutes of floating and lovely chiming guitar work that brings to mind the work of American minimalist composer Steve Reich (If Reich wrote six minute oddball rock songs). In a matter of seconds though, the song explodes into a strange blast of almost funky hardcore aggression.
Most experimental bands on the local circuit lack the structural patience that Red Medicine possesses, and it would be excellent to see them continue to develop this aspect of their music. Their extended compositions are anything but boring, and are instead hypnotic and lulling affairs that fully explore the territory between dissonance and consonance.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Houston delivers his vocals in a hoarse and spare fashion that accents the group’s already strong arrangements. His lyrics are highly-fractured narratives that hang another loose dimension of meaning over Red Medicine’s abstract and open-ended compositions. Dan Smith, the group’s other guitarist, writes parts that perfectly complement Houston’s. Together, the pair creates soundscapes full of eccentric beauty, while drummer Ed Hamaty and bassist Andrew Wright construct steady and minimal rhythmic foundations that allow their collective interplay to breathe comfortably.
All 22 minutes of this release were recorded and mixed by the group themselves, and the result is very pleasing as far as DIY rock production goes. Some more spacial depth could do these tracks good, and even a tiny bit of layered vocal presence would add visceral impact without sacrificing the immediacy of the album’s live feel, but the end product is alternately urgent and sprawling right where it needs to be.