When it comes to West Coast experimental pop/freak-folk outfits, I typically gloss over their reviews or any sizable mention in the press, since they’re not usually my cup of tea. Haunting vocals pillowed under a pretentious Brian Eno-sized electronic production setup has always left me sitting in the ether for one reason or another. I haven’t played most Akron/Family albums more than once, and I thought Grizzly Bear was merely just okay after seeing them live in California a few years back. As for Nurses, there’s something inextricable which compels me to grant their tracks more listens per usual—even placing certain songs on mixtapes. Fortunately, I was bestowed the chance to investigate this dilemmatic phenomenon by witnessing them live at Kilby.
I got to the venue right when the doors opened. After a few minutes of dawdling and a few failed attempts to build a fire in the pit outside, Nurses started sound checking from inside of the garage. Albeit being a minor sound check, the first few runs went with studio-sounding impeccability. This made me slightly excited. Shortly after, Kilby’s soundman came out to share a smoke with me. He said the band used up every input on the venue’s mixing board—meaning they had a big electronic setup. This made me slightly nervous.
However, all worry was washed away once Nurses launched their set with “Dancing Grass,” which pairs the swaying sound of wineglasses with an echoing backbeat—making an unpredictably enchanting opener. Lead vocalist, Aaron Chapman, shot out his tenor warble while pacing far and near to the microphone with a funky swagger. To Chapman’s right, John Bowers gracefully pressed buttons on his MIDI pad in between his bass riffs to keep the electronic noise flowing in the background. When they played their biggest hooks, such as “You Lookin’ Twice,” band percussionist, James Mitchell, drummed a slow, locomotive rhythm and even simultaneously played his own MIDI keyboard while beating upon the floor tom with his free hand. It seemed like any idle time the band had between playing conventional instruments, they just used for playing additional electronic noise and loops. There was not a single pocket of silence to be found in the background of any of the songs during the gig and it left me enthralled, to say the least. The band finished up with “Technicolor,” the biggest hit off of their previous album and left even a few people dancing arythmically long after it was over.
Before calling it a night, I managed to strike up a conversation with Chapman after he finished packing up the last of his equipment. He had a lax yet friendly demeanor, discussing details of his tour to me as if we were old friends playing catch-up. I told him my liking of Nurses but also my general disliking of the bands that are tagged as being in the same genre, such as Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear. Chapman scoffed and responded that although he respects those other bands the press compares them to, he doesn’t like to compare his band to them or isn’t influenced by them either in any way, shape or form. I inquired more and he explained all of Nurses’ works are purely unconscious, using an analogy of how they’re just a few bugs unconsciously flying near a bug lamp. They don’t have any specific sound in mind to achieve, it’s solely impulsive.
After that, I thanked him and parted ways. I went home and Nurses continued onward to Texas, to meet up with The Mountain Goats and resume the rest of their tour. Even with most curiosity quelled, there’s still something laden underneath the tracks of Nurses’ compositions which I cannot put my finger on. Perhaps it’s relative to the bug lamp analogy Chapman painted out. Is impulsivity really more genuine than aspiration? Either way, Nurses deserve a repeat listen