Nurses Apple’s Acre

[Dead Oceans; 2009]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: psych-pop, indie rock, freak-folk
Others: Quinn Walker, Panda Bear, Yeasayer

Keeping mostly to the safe end of the psychedelic spectrum, Nurses make odd music that feels oddly conventional. Their new record, Apple's Acre, is decidedly more ecstatic than their last, but it never gives itself fully to its freak-folk urges. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; building their songs around the bones of pop structure ensures that Nurses never come off as directionless. The overall experience is loose, though lucid enough; the album's cover could come bearing a sticker that reads RIYL: Beach Boys, Animal Collective, Ducktails. Nurses aren't as overtly engaged in explorations of juvenalia than any of those aforementioned acts (despite the "Pythagoras Switch" samples that bookend the title track), but Apple's Acre never feels too far removed from their psych-pop progenitors and peers.

This summer, being marked by the arrival of the Balearic dance scene and the rise of the lo-fi tropicalia aesthetic, is a potentially advantageous time for Nurses to hop on the psych bandwagon. But as much as Nurses might benefit from their prodigious timing, they also bear the risk of getting lost in the shuffle: there is much to enjoy on Apple's Acre, though little to distinguish the band from its more adventurous peers. This summer, more than any in recent memory, carries with it an embarrassment of riches; this is a fat season, a feast season, for any broad-minded music fan. But hunger turns to gluttony, and gluttony to indifference, and as a result, Nurses' contributions are easier to dismiss than their talents warrant.

Make no mistake, the pleasures of Apple's Acre are unmitigated by any disappointments or aggravations. “Technicolor,” the first song on the album, starts off sounding like an early Bee Gees B-side, until the “Personal Jesus”-y guitar and double-dutch drums kick in. The song is spare, but rubbery, its melody bending and stretching impressively. Aaron Chapman, Nurses' lead singer, has a vibrato tone owing as much to the Gibb brothers as it does to Devendra Banhart.

But despite the inventive vocals, the album -- clocking in at less than 40 minutes -- feels unsubstantial. Its melodies are forgotten almost as soon as the album is over. Befitting of its title, “Caterpillar Playground” is the only song whose earworm gets stuck inside the head. Built around a sweetly sentimental whistle, the song doesn't actually build into very much at all, but the sum of its parts is engaging enough to invite replaying. And other than “What Then,” which begins as a piano-led lament before turning glitch and defiant, most of Apple Acre's 10 tracks are motionless, inert. There is little-to-no build-up within each song individually and as the album wears on. It can begin to feel monotonous.

Still, while Nurses' adherence to pop construction might not do them favors when it comes to standing out from the pack, it also means that their music is potentially more durable than many similar blog-hyped acts. The rough, shambling energy of Nurse's music is high among its charms. Much like Quinn Walker, another psych act whose moment seems soon to come, Nurses deserve to benefit from their particular interpretation of classic pop music. Apple's Acre, possessing more than just mood or manic energy, places Nurses on firmer ground than some of the more watery groups on the Underwater Peoples roster. But in order for Nurses' music to endure, they need to catch on in the first place. "I can make it if I wish," Chapman sings on “Technicolor.” Perhaps. But whether his band will make it, despite their merits, remains an open question.

1. Technicolor
2. Mile After Mile
3. Caterpillar Playground
4. Manatarms
5. Apple's Acre
6. Bright Ideas
7. What Then
8. Winter
9. Lita
10. Orange Cymbals

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