Apple's Acre is a record full of dysfunctional, hushed love, laced with elegance and grace and without angst and regret. But the plain courage of their songs is the secret ingredient that's already turning heads and blowing minds all over the Northwest and if you think about it, in pop music, courage is always at a premium. Fans of Yeasayer, Deerhoof, Danielson and wild minded pop music should pay close attention.
Review by Ned Raggett
If indie rock has become, for the most part, an endlessly rotating set of established signifiers in 2009, then Nurses' second album, Apple's Acre, is perfectly at home in it all, skipping amid everything from bits of electronic echo and glitch to clap-along sentiments to cracked-voice ruminations on home and love -- and all this within the first song, "Technicolor," so if nothing else the band knows how to put all the pieces together from the start. But from there, as with far too many acts in the field, things barely vary -- having learned their lessons all too well from acts like the Flaming Lips and the Decemberists, Arcade Fire and Animal Collective, Nurses proceed to provide exactly what is expected of them and what their audience presumably expects. There are big sentiments and big singing, swathes of reverb and senses of vast spaces, twinkling keyboards and crashing bells, an emphasis of treble over bass on all fronts. If there was more to remark on, more that provided an individual stamp, then there would be more to say -- but if Nurses are content to be the new Supertramp like so many other of the acts that have come before them, then let them have at it at their leisure. But little surprise if many listeners would tire and look elsewhere.
Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, friends since middle school, have moved from Idaho to California to Chicago to (finally) Portland, Oregon, and they've dragged their psych-rock project, Nurses, with them. But they've never seemed to fully unpack until now. Sure, they self-released a debut in 2007 that was born of the San Diego sunshine, but it took verdant Portland to give Nurses the rain they really needed to grow. Since arriving they've taken on a third member, percussionist James Mitchell, and hunkered down in an old Victorian house to self-record a much higher profile sophomore release. And as such, Apple's Acre sounds homemade in the best possible way. It is a quality that speaks to not only the intimacy of the recording, but also the confidence and comfort that Nurses now have in their delicately shambolic sound. (Not to mention the plain fact that something can't be homemade unless you actually have a home to make it in-- and Nurses now do.)
Like the shaggy younger sibling of Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear on a tight budget, Nurses marry dreamy harmonies to spare arrangements of slightly out-of-tune pianos, carnival organs, and basic percussion from a lone snare or tambourine. The songs have a real sonic sprawl due to the space within the airy voices-- they manage to sound cohesive without sounding dense-- and the ticking, whirring electronic effects that resonate in the background mysteriously. With a reedy, acrobatic vocal timbre that can recall Jeff Mangum, Muse's Matt Bellamy, or Win Butler all in the span of one song, Chapman adds a messy, primal pulse to the ethereal, otherworldly arrangements. His not-quite-vulgar but definitely earthy delivery keeps these haunting tracks from living entirely in a heady realm of glimmering pianos and off-kilter rhythms, anchoring the vaporous harmonies with his slightly incongruous red-blooded delivery.
The band rightly kicks off Apple's Acre with "Technicolor", a track that not only acts as an introduction to Nurses' ramshackle combination of the sweet and the hard, but also, with its title, announces their big, bright musical ambition. With pianos that sound like the gentle tinkling of a crystal chandelier layered atop reverberating vocals and heavily galloping percussion, the track constantly threatens to blossom into a psychedelic anthem, but muffled by an echoey effect, it remains subtly muted. Though there are bold color strokes in many of their songs-- the chirpy whistling on "Caterpillar Playground", the vintage-inspired "I Only Want to Be With You"-like vocal melody of the title track, the swirling stadium- or carousel-worthy organs of "Bright Ideas"-- most of the collection is painted with a more subdued palette of watercolors. "Lita", for instance, tames its firm, percussive stomp with lush vocals, a repetitive melody, and ghostly electronic effects.
The toll that the band's itinerant wanderings had on the duo is audible in Apple's Acre's lyrics. With lines about trying to get back home (on "Technicolor") or the differences between a house and a home (on "Lita"), you can hear the two drifters yearning to put down roots. But that can be attributed to the fact that many of these songs were written years ago, during the band's travels, and only recently recorded in their Portland attic-cum-studio. And so, in juxtaposing those lyrics against their lysergic harmonies and lovely, strange piano twinkles, both of which feel lived in, you can hear that those desires for permanence have been answered. For the time being at least, Nurses have found a home, and they sound good there because, as we know, there's no place like it.
— Rebecca Raber, August 4, 2009