Beneath Medicine Tree by Copeland (Review)

Beneath Medicine Tree is not without its flaws, but it hints at so much promise.
Beneath Medicine Tree - Copeland

As many artists have when confronted with pain and tragedy, Copeland’s Aaron Marsh turned the experience of his girlfriend’s illness and grandmother’s death into inspiration for Beneath Medicine Tree. Many of the lyrics express a sense of longing that come from such trials — longing for healing, wholesomeness, and peace. As such, Beneath Medicine Tree has all of the makings for an emotionally charged disc.

However, the particular musical path that Copeland has chosen to pursue does much to deaden the album’s potential impact. Copeland plays the same sort of emo-laced pop that has pushed artists ranging from Jimmy Eat World and Further Seems Forever to Dashboard Confessional to varying degrees of success. Although the album does contain several noteworthy moments, there’s a sense that the album’s sound — which, while full of pretty moments, is defined by its blandness more often than not — is ultimately holding it back.

Perhaps part of the problem is the album’s production. Beneath Medicine Tree is a well-produced album, no doubt about it. But everything sounds so slick and effortless that it often feels sterile and clinical, like the hospital equipment that adorns the sleeve art. There’s rarely any edge or grit for the listener to get caught on, but instead the sort of earnest, pleading sound that you would expect.

It’s obvious from the lyrics that Marsh is attempting to communicate some pretty strong emotional material. But if you didn’t know about any of the sickness and tragedy that inspired these songs, you could be forgiven for assuming they were just yet another series of odes to messy breakups, buffed to a nice finish in the studio.

There are moments when Beneath Medicine Tree really hits its stride, and when that happens, it reveals a band with a lot of potential that’s just waiting to be capitalized on. “Priceless (For Eleanor)” is the album’s shining moment, with some of the album’s most evocative imagery (“ Cause I need you now/Like the butterfly needs the wind/Like the orphan needs home again/Like heaven needs more to come in”). Here, Marsh’s strained, breathy vocals are truly in their element, especially when backed by the soaring synths.

At worst, he can sound like Chris Carabba doing his best Chris Martin impersonation (a lethal combination to be sure). But at best, he comes close to the soaring croon of Matthew Kelly (The Autumns). Actually, I was reminded of The Autumns several times throughout the album, almost as if Copeland was a nascent form of that glorious act. Marsh’s lyrics may not pack as much poetic flare as Kelly’s, but songs like “When Paula Sparks” come close, sounding almost like an early b-side from In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour. Over sparse, ringing guitars, Marsh breathlessly sings “Sleep now moon/I’ll watch over her while the sun is up/And you’ll have your eyes again soon.”

The driving pop of “Take Care” recalls the underappreciated Driver Eight while “She Changes Your Mind” delivers one of the album’s strongest choruses; Marsh belts out “It was your hello’ that kept me hanging on every word/And your good-bye’ that keeps me listening for your voice around each corner” over surging drums and chiming bells.

When I first listened to this disc, I quickly wrote it off as just another emo-pop recording. But it says something about the album’s strengths that songs like “Priceless (For Eleanor)” and “Take Care” still stuck with me despite the somewhat pallid recording. Beneath Medicine Tree is not without its flaws, but it hints at so much promise that I fully expect Copeland to move on to bigger and better things.

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