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Nurses

Apple's Acre

(Dead Oceans; US: 4 Aug 2009; UK: import)

Aaron Chapman and John Bowers are the duo that make up Nurses, and on their debut, Apple’s Acre, just try and pin their sound down. You can pick out genre references in their music—mostly psychedelia and electro-pop—but to call it by either of those is to sum up their sound too simply. Nor does it work to just mash the two together and call this psychedelic electro-pop, because that too doesn’t cover the spectrum they cover by surprisingly spare means.


The record thrives in dichotomy. Most of the songs hum with faint electronics, making them soar in their own stripped-down way. But all that electric haze throbs up against the creaky, earthen sound of a Rhodes piano. Mix in patched-together percussion—sometimes a simple thump, other times an intricate and lively assault—and you’ve got an album of songs that are as uniformly catchy as they are unpredictable.


Much of the variety found in these songs comes in the vocal delivery. Chapman and Bowers put together some frayed but affecting harmonies on each track, and no two songs are sung in the same way. Standouts like “Technicolor” and “Man at Arms” are sung in a gentle high register that floats sweetly over the tracks. The title song channels the surf melodies of the Beach Boys, while “Mile After Mile” has them channeling the nasal bleat of Frankie Valle. And while most of the singing falls pretty high on the scale, that doesn’t keep them from dropping into a haunting, moodier tone on tunes like “What Then” and “Bright Ideas”. Even as the elements stay simple, this turns out to be an eclectic set, moving all over the musical map, mining both the past and present for inspiration.


But what is most refreshing about Apple’s Acre is how unaffected it sounds. Despite using elements of both electro-pop and psychedelia—among many other influences—Nurses never gets bogged down in looking backwards. They may glance into history, but they don’t bed down and live there. These songs don’t carry genre baggage, avoiding the penchant for electro-pop to sometimes live firmly in an ‘80s sheen, or for psychedelia to resort to swirling guitar feedback to earn some sort of druggy haze. Instead, Nurses takes elements from these sounds, and plenty of others, and fashions them into something much brighter, more elemental, and distinctly theirs.


And even as these songs find them searching and sometimes lost, the feel of the record remains unshakably upbeat. Where these songs could easily fall into self-aware navel-gazing, the duo instead battle and earn a connection with the audience through a guileless joy that permeates the whole record. Though this sound feels borderless, the album is constantly pushing forward into new discoveries, even as it feels that either there is an unknown destination at the end of the record, or no destination at all.


Nurses is happy to make their home in the haze, to embrace the unknown and search out the unexpected. “It doesn’t make much sense,” the duo sings to open the record, and though we never quite get what the “it” is, finding out is beside the point. Because they’re not worrying over it at all. They’re letting the nonsensical go and pushing forward to make their own sense, whether it’s in the keys of the Rhodes, the blissful drone of machines, or the airy coo of their voices. Nurses may not always know where they’re going with Apple’s Acre, but it sure is fun to follow them anyway.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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28 Sep 2011
Nurses are a band whose approach to songwriting can be practically defined as playing around in the studio and seeing what sticks. Yet with this keen an editorial sense, the results are consistently impressive.
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