Brainy Bunch: Medications drops a smart second album.

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Five years after the group’s last release, the D.C. post-punk trio Medications has re-emerged with a surprising new album. Completely Removed is not only the band’s first full-length since the departure of powerhouse drummer Andrew Becker, who, along with guitarist-vocalist Devin Ocampo and bassist-vocalist Chad Molter, was a founding member; it’s also a course correction of the most tuneful variety. Medications’ first two releases, 2004’s Medications EP and 2005’s Your Favorite People All in One Place, feature a trio that is longer on chops than hooks and prone to the kind of minor-key explorations that, once upon a time, might’ve fallen into the category of progressive rock. In that sense, Becker’s departure is a positive change. It has pushed Ocampo and Molter—both of whom played together in Faraquet and the Mary Timony Band—in a simpler, more melodic direction. Take the first three notes of the new album’s third track, “Seasons,” a song that begins with a Beatlesque motif. Ocampo’s riff, which eventually substitutes a power chord for a guitar line that’s equal parts Byrds and New Order, is a major statement for a musician who, in the past, favored pyrotechnics over pop. Here, you get both. On the Nigerian-sounding “Long Day,” Ocampo creates a complex latticework of guitar notes to support a gentle falsetto lament. “Oh…the day is so long,” the chorus goes. But despite its moments of impressive musicianship—aided by new member and multi-instrumentalist Mark Cisneros, who like Molter, used to work at Washington City PaperCompletely Removed is ultimately defined by the care and attention devoted to its vocals. Perhaps this was a necessity. Because Ocampo and Molter had to trade off drum duties, it was impossible to make the kind of record Medications is known for—that is, a document of three musicians playing together in a room. Instead, what they made is best described as a studio concoction. Ocampo recorded it himself over several months, which allowed for an amount of vocal overdubbing uncommon to independent releases. There are stacked harmonies (“Kilometers and Smiles”), contrapuntal chirps (“Rising to Sleep”), and even a wordless refrain built from crisscrossing oohs and ahs (“Country Air”). If all of this seems more pop than punk, it’s because Completely Removed contains little in the way of fury. One track in particular, the elegant ballad “Brasil ’07,” might be the mellowest music ever released by Dischord, the D.C. punk label that has been home to Ocampo and Molter for over a decade. In all of that time, nothing the two musicians have released has prepared listeners for the crystalline sounds of Completely Removed. The album is both a welcome comeback and one of the finest records to come out of this city’s punk community in what seems like ages.