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Medicine Hat — Medicine Hat
(Bandcamp Collective Fruit CFCD004, 1994, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-11-08

Medicine Hat Cover art

In the midst of all the international hype about Seattle bands in the early 90s, there was a whole host of bands that either didn’t make the leap to fame, or almost made it. One of those bands was Medicine Hat, and listening to their sole album after nearly 30 years, it’s kind of a moot question whether they should have made it big or not. What I can say is that it’s a darn fine album, and this quartet had many qualities that set them apart from their peers and near-peers, like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and the rest. Their style has some elements in common with the “Seattle sound,” namely their punkish intensity and fondness for unexpected and dissonant chords, but these elements are in a unique context. The rhythm section of Jason Legat (drums) and Jason Thomson (bass) is monstrously powerful, with hints of both funk and math-rock in their playing, and it is Thomson’s bass that provides the chordal anchor of the music. Guitarist Ben McAllister generally does not play chords, instead concentrating on “harmonics and whammy bar,” as he has noted. His long, searing notes float over the busy rhythms, occasionally coming down to earth to lock in with the rest of the band, lending a prominent injection of chaos into the arrangements. He’s flashy and in-your-face without indulging in typical shredding. The final factor is singer Sean Bates, whose intense vocals deliver cryptic lyrics in very expressive ways. It’s no surprise that he sings in a Queen cover band — he’s got both the power and range to pull off Freddie Mercury’s famous parts, but here he’s in service of a much edgier aesthetic. Medicine Hat has been described as “really loud art rock,” and I can’t argue with that (at least one writer of the time used the word progressive). While their style is consistent, the individual songs are not, with a lot of range from quieter sections like those in “Eleven,” “Pajama,” and “Open Sky” to all-out blasts like “She” and “I Am.” A word that continually comes to mind is inventive. Now that Medicine Hat is readily available, anyone who thinks the Seattle explosion was overrated can hear a potent example of what the scene had to offer. I lived in Seattle at the time, but I’m pretty sure I never managed to see them live, which is a shame. Luckily, they’ve got a reunion show coming up, so I can make up for lost time.

Filed under: New releases, 1994 releases

Related artist(s): Wayne Horvitz, Medicine Hat

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