Ambition is something we tend to applaud in music. We like it when bands push themselves, when they shift dramatically or make a bigger sound or encorporate fresh elements into their sound. It keeps us interested, even when it doesn’t work.
Nurses released a self-made debut in 2009, called Apple’s Acre. The band recorded it basically at home, and the organic-sounding, psychedelic electro-pop was exciting even if it wasn’t bombastic. It wasn’t super-loud, but it was vital, drenched in sweat, and driven as much by dusty guitar licks as it was by churning beats. Dracula, the group’s sophomore album, finds these guys shooting for something bigger. The band — now a trio of Aaron Chapman, James Mitchell, and John Bowers — set up a full-on recording studio and collaborated on every part of the song. They weren’t, by their own description, three players in a band but three producers instead, crafting elements of sound until songs came together. Scott Colburn (who has worked with Arcade Fire and Animal Collective) mixed the record at his studio, trying to maximize the side of the sound.
The results are a far cry from Apple’s Acre. These are huge, spacious, cool-sounding tracks. The new, maximized sound can be compelling, as on the space-aged clatter and bump of “Extra Fast” or the dreamy thump of “So Sweet.” “New Feelings” deconstructs the band’s strengths — layered keys, the interplay of sweet vocal harmonies — and the results are jarring but also offer an interesting shift in the record. These songs highlight the band’s quirky combination of organic and electronic elements, and the high-register harmonies that push their finest work along.
Much of the rest of Dracula, however, feels weighed down by all this size. The album never works up to the fever pitch Apple’s Acre achieved. As a result, the space and groan of these songs, which starts out effective, takes on a sluggish feel as the record moves along. “Dancing Grass” begins with odd squalls of sound, but then clutters itself up with too-loud drums and heavy-handed synth lines. Contrastingly, “Wouldn’t Tell” feels like its missing a layer or two despite that echoing guitar line.
These mid-tempo songs sap some of the group’s natural energy from Dracula. They feel carefully constructed and, at their best, well crafted. But too often here well-crafted slips into overworked. The constraints of working at home made Apple’s Acre shine as an unassuming electro-pop gem. Nurses certainly can’t be faulted for trying something bigger — especially because they do succeed in created a new sonic weight — but in letting the layers grow, the charm of the songs themselves gets left behind too much here.