Nashville post-punk band Western Medication doesn’t want to reveal too many secrets. They refused to share album lyrics with me (if you buy the vinyl or CD release, expect only snippets), and their bio is purposefully opaque (a.k.a., almost non-existent). Fortunately, the revelation on their debut record is that they have some serious potential to rise above the ashes of ‘80s Brit pop, soar over the remains of The Stone Roses, and even recall the new wave revelation of Echo & the Bunnymen in their heyday (if you were alive at the time).
Most of “that sound” hinged on warbly-retro guitar lines and plucky bass parts, a driving beat and an occasional digression into R.E.M.-like jangle. You hear some hints of Blur on the song “Chins,” with its lethargic drums and heavy reverb on the vocals and guitars. Western Medication uses a computerized voice as a segue, something like what a Mac could do back in the ‘90s, to reinforce the pop influences. It slows down the album in the same way the X Ambassadors kept inserting spoken-word segments to their debut. We get it, you’re being self-referential. It’s a bit odd for Western Medication, considering they released a video for the song “Witch Parade” that could have been made in the ‘80s (e.g., guys singing into a camera). They just want to play! It’s music stripped to the basic elements. Why the computerized filler?
You forgive them a bit on “Desperately Adaptable,” with its fantastic throwback drums, all speed fills and furious snare taps. The high-energy guitars and Oasis-like vocals make you want to wrap yourself in the British flag. On “Witch Parade” you get the full-on invasion, but “Goes Around” offers the first glimpse of what makes Western Medication worth your time. Once again, they channel R.E.M. on bass, but there’s some post-punk aggression — not quite The Hoteliers, but enough brushes with their sound to make you think a sophomore record won’t be so retro. I kept waiting for Western Medication to fall into a Brit pop hole, but they never did. There’s enough here to make the basic guitars-drums-bass sound far from a throwaway ‘80s artist like Let’s Active and yet not so derivative that it sounds like a Blur cover band.
Things falter again “On the Edge of Ambition” with some ambient discord as you sort of wait for Blur to get up on stage after the guy on synth is done. “Networking” gets equally experimental, but eventually grabs the punk reins and steers things evenly toward Blink-182 territory. “By Direct Design” does a wonderful job of shifting gears from one tempo to another, ending in a space rock jam. A couple of these songs — most notably the instrumental “All Things in Time” — seem like filler. “Countryside” comes to a grinding halt and slips into an abyss of faux experimentalism as if the band was getting tired of playing so much guitar. Yet, their musical sensibilities are sound, they play like they could easily open for either Oasis or The Verve. You pick.