Losing a drummer can be a pretty serious setback for any band, but for one whose sound deals primarily in complex rhythms and technically precise instrumental interplay, it can be downright crippling. After a few years of touring behind the 2005 album Your Favorite People All In One Place, Medications drummer Andrew Becker left the band, leaving duo Chad Molter and Devin Ocampo to continue as a duo. Yet, instead of viewing Becker’s departure as a handicap, Ocampo and Molter moved forward, using the changing dynamic of the band as an opportunity to explore new avenues of songwriting and stylistic changes.
Taking on most of the instrumental duties, Molter and Ocampo, along with collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Mark Cisneros, re-emerge a refreshed, tight and newly pop-centric band with second album Completely Removed. Moving slightly away from their previous effort’s epic math-punk, the new album retains some of the rhythmic complexity and intricate instrumentation of before, only with a stronger focus on accessible melodies. The band didn’t shy away from big choruses or catchy hooks before, but this time around, they’re a much more pronounced part of the equation.
The odd syncopation of guitar jangle against drums in “For WMF” sets the album slightly askew right from the get-go, but that off-kilter sound quickly transitions into one of the prettiest, most accessible songs the band has written to date. Likewise, the taut, sprightly jangle of “Long Day” is surprisingly reminiscent of British post-punk popsters Field Music. Suffice it to say, it’s a gorgeous song, yet the band’s riffs remain as meticulously interwoven as ever. “Seasons” only continues this newfound celebration of pure pop via swing and syncopation, while “We Could Be Others” ramps up the aggression just slightly, enough to remind listeners that the band’s punk rock tendencies haven’t disappeared. On “Brasil ’07,” the group changes course, putting aside their giddy pop sound for a Tortoise-like take on jazzy post-rock, while instrumental hard rock raveup “Kilometers and Smiles” is a bit more Edgar Winter. And carrying through with that muscular rock sound is “Home Is Where We Are,” which, more than any other song here, recalls Ocampo and Molter’s previous band, Faraquet.
As fun as it is to hear Medications lock into a mesmerizing and tight groove, riffs escalating and scorching, the sunny, if skewed, jangle pop they’ve taken on suits them well. While Completely Removed is by no means a pure pop album, it’s an engaging synergy between the band’s technical prowess and power pop leanings. And it proves, pretty convincingly, that Ocampo and Molter are every bit as proficient with pop songwriting as they are with ornate instrumental arrangements.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.