Sound — 9
Not to open with references to other reviews, but when Pitchfork gives a nod to a band like Medicine as "about as close as the U.S. got to answering My Bloody Valentine," there had better be celebration to meet such a long-awaited return from the trio. The deed is done in 2013 with Medicine's fourth release (if the awful "The Mechanical Forces of Love," which featured only one of the band's original members, can be dismissed), "To the Happy Few." The record follows a lengthy space between records (and lineups) and the band's breakup after 1995's "Her Highness," which itself disappointed after two near-perfect albums. With "To the Happy Few," Medicine seems to have remember that it knows how to make really, really good music. Though certainly a triumphant return, it's almost comical how dreadfully far the band had fallen before finally rediscovering its own incredible skill. Somewhere on the noise pop-ier side of shoegaze, the record is one of those "skip-around discography" pieces: Van Halen had something of the same thing going on with a few hits, a few stinkers, and a bizarrely yet not unexpectedly good comeback. Medicine goes even further, not only making a triumphant return but throwing in a few elements that would look good on any album. "Long as the Sun" opens the record with a conspicuously abrupt garble of noise, explained in the last moments of "Daylight." Not to be outdone by the looping album gimmick, "To the Happy Few" packs as much great music into itself as it can, notably the Halloweeny "Burn It"; a reflection, explosion, and acid trip in "Holy Crimes"; a romantic pit stop in "Butterfly's Out Tonight"; and a very melancholy "All You Need to Know" with vocals nodding slightly to a more experimental Beatles. Is it all good? Avoiding anymore run-on analogies, the simple answer is "hell, yes." Not only is the instrumentation among the best noise-pop and shoegaze has to offer (much of the record rivals EMA's masterpiece "Past Life Martyred Saints"), but Medicine really nails the musical narrative. The album does loop and tracks do very subtly pass the baton from one to the next, but there is also at least one distinctive change in acts. Whether or not a first and second are drawn in the sand, the third act breaks out with "Pull the Trigger," which blares noise similar to the opening before launching into a solid closer, "Daylight." While having less staying power than motifs of rock subgenre past ("In the Flesh?" and so on), it's used about as well as it can be. "Pull the Trigger" also serves the distinction as having one of the best uses of pick scraping in its bridge. "To the Happy Few" serves the distinction as being the next great masterpiece from Medicine, and if there is a higher power one of the next great shoegaze/noise-pop staples.
Lyrics — 8
Often dreamy and heavily reliant upon romantic imagery ("Daylight" rolls around in it), Beth Thompson's vocal work and Medicine's lyricism are the album's mast and sail. Harmonies arise every so often with the grace of Simon & Garfunkel, and on her own Thompson is a shoegazer's delight: bright but broad, powerful yet easy. Brad Laner, who deserves credit for starting the band but should be reviled for "The Mechanical Forces of Love," is in and out but equally pleasant. Most of the harmonies throughout are featuring at least those two, though "Long as the Sun" really takes off when Thompson begins that romantic whisper halfway at about the 2:30 mark. She truly is the album's vocal star: Laner's assist is appreciated and certainly called for, but not altogether needed. At least give the man a solo track so the music doesn't feel like the only element with wide variety.
Overall Impression — 9
Some shoegaze and/or noise-pop site surely throws Album of the Year at someone, and in 2013 Medicine's beautiful "To the Happy Few" deserves some kind of commendation ("m b v" will almost certainly take home the gold). It is truly refreshing to see the band come back together, after closing on two decades apart, to produce material equal to or greater than the releases that brought them into the spotlight. Regardless of what brought this miracle about, suffice it to say that "To the Happy Few" is an easy classic. "Burn It" and "Long as the Sun" should be sufficient proof. Now that they've mastered putting out new material about as often as My Bloody Valentine, perhaps the next release from Medicine will see a new king crowned.