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28 Jun 2011

Review: Medicine (Marc Broude)

Marc Broude
No Zen Records, 2010

Medicine is a kind of ambient/experimental/jazz monster, a cold and misty dream, a delirious wandering into the frigid canyons and plateaus of frosty Niflheim. Medicine? This is shamanistic medicine, seidhr medicine, medicine of the heart, the spirit, the soul. Ordeal medicine, dancing with death, drawing us into mystery, puncturing the thin skin of self-evident, everyday life.

The music is woven from drones, swathes of reverb on delay on reverb. These banks of sound are like grey clouds on the horizon of a weak northern dawn. They refract from the ice and harshness of the sonic landscape they shroud. At times they become warm, welcoming – yet it is the two-edged warmth of hypothermia, inviting us to expire.

Slithering through this arctic landscape is a variety of instruments. Guitar, arch and jazz-inflected; driving yet washed out drum kit; playfully dark bass (I love the trebly, distorted tone, it sounds like a gravel-voiced singer); eerie chimes. These elements create motion, direction, a journey through this cold and unknown Otherworld.

Medicine uses minimalism beautifully. The simplicity of the arrangements is deceptive, and every single sound is milked for its full resonance and character. This release rewards deep, intensive listening. It is meditative and trance inducing, summoning rich visual imagery (as this whole review attests!)

At times the instruments conjure strange beings and beasts of unknown nature and provenance; at times it feels like a dream coiling around itself endlessly. Medicine verges on the psychotropic, like a door into a drug-free hallucinatory trip.

“War of the Worlds” deserves particular mention. Invoking with spoken word samples the text of the same name, drawing an edge of ironic humour into the weight and gloom of the album. This intimation of artistic self-awareness is a necessary touch of spice to free the release, despite its bulk, to float delicately, like a massive iceberg.

The frenetic guitar that scores and unravels throughout the song completes the force of this track as the samples merge into more and more disconnected reverie and eeriness. The track also shades across some very cool jazz bass and drum work, which uncoils like a rhythmic python, setting the piece into a reptilian groove.

As a bass player myself, I have to give special kudos to the last track, “Muerte,” a sedate yet tremendously heavy meditation on the electric bass’s ability to communicate harmonically and tonally (and not just rhythmically!). A flawless finish to a spell-binding album. Medicine is a powerful provocation and a spiritual journey all at once. I strongly invite you to embrace its primordial universes.

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