Aaron Chapman and John Bowers have been through it all. Upon meeting in middle school, the two have moved together from Idaho to California to Chicago, and finally Portland, traveling with a musical project they call Nurses. Once settling in the City of Roses, the avant-pop outfit recruited a third member, percussionist James Mitchell, and the trio released its first album on Dead Oceans, Apple’s Acre. To some, this quirky, unconventional pop record was one of the most overlooked and underrated of 2009, causing immense anticipation for a follow-up.
Two years after Apple’s Acre, Nurses is back with its third release (second on Dead Oceans), Dracula. Where much of Acre’s lure was in its lo-fi, DIY sound, Dracula’s is quite the opposite. This album has a denser, darker sound that begs to be listened through a sound system rather than headphones. And though the band members retreated to the Oregon Coast to self-track the album in the isolation of winter, they handed the audio off to production guru Scott Colburn (Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Sun City Girls) and Julian Martlew at Seattle’s Gravelvoice Studios, officially making the transition from a bedroom recording experiment to a three-dimensional, dynamic psychedelic pop outfit.
Although the production aspect of the band has changed, its core has not. Nurses’ songs still possess eccentric, off-kilter pop structures with sticky sweet melodies that infect their listeners. But this time around, the three-piece showcases a darker side of its sound, employing more electronics and primal percussion techniques to create eerie, at times unworldly, soundscapes. This sound is evident in the opening track, and first single off the album, “Fever Dreams,” which highlights wavering, psychedelic guitar riffs, pounding, rhythmic percussion, and Chapman’s distinct screeching falsetto-baritone vocals.
This uncanny mood drifts through the first four tracks of the album, and suddenly the mood changes with the aptly titled “So Sweet,” a hazily upbeat, melodic pop tune that has been a fan favorite during live performances far before the release of the record. This track eases into the second single off the album, “Trying To Reach You,” a groovy, funk-inspired track that features “whoa-ohs,” “ooh oohs,” and interesting vocal layering.
After a short melodious stint, the mood of the album revolves back to the eerie psychedelic from which it began, and Nurses leaves us with “Eternal Thrills,” a wavy, percussion-driven end track where Chapman appropriately chants, “Take the sun, ‘cause we’re always having fun.”