Nurses originally formed in Idaho, before embarking on a more nomadic existence that found them taking up residences in such locales as “a farm in rural California, a van in Chicago.” They released their debut, Hangin’ Nothin’ But Our Hands Down, as a 4-piece in 2007, before , core members, Aaron Chapman and John Bowers eventually settled in Portland, Oregon. It was there that they met/teamed up with drummer/percussionist, James Mitchell and recorded the infectious, yet slightly unorthodox, psych pop followup, Apples Acre, which was released by Dead Oceans in 2009. It was also at this point that we first discovered them, as the album quickly made its way into our regular listening rotation. One of the first things that really grabbed my attention about the group was the various live clips that I would come across of them often performing the same tunes, but with markedly different setups. For example, one video could involve Mitchell playing nothing but a kick drum with a mallet, while Chapman played a nylon acoustic and John Bowers manned a basic Casio. Then, in another rendition, they would be performing the exact same track, except with Chapman and Bowers playing tandem on an old upright piano. Other videos would showcase their abilities with electronics, sampling, and pedals. While it’s easy to toss the term “experimental” around, Nurse‘s wasn’t only toying with different sounds during the songwriting and creation process, but rather continuing to allow particular tracks — as well seeming intent on pushing the as the scope of their overall sound — to evolve indefinitely.
Interestingly enough, the first song that I remember coming across was “So Sweet,” which was presented through a video recorded during their live performance of it on Chat Roulette. Although it was sent to us during the promotion of Apple’s Acre and was later performed by the trio when we caught them at the 2010 Sasquatch! Music Festival, the track actually didn’t appear on an album until Dracula was released 2 years later, and when it did, the final version was surprisingly different. A true collective effort recorded in seclusion out on the Oregon Coast, the entire album was permeating with a surreal electronic haze, like ocean waves being filtered through a more synthetic lens. As the name of the album might imply, Dracula was a bit duskier and not as overtly bright as it’s predecessor, with the opener “Fever Dreams” carrying a particularly apt title that set the tone for the LP across the board. There was a brilliant alchemy that the group was able to conjure up and meld between the terrestrial and organic, the ethereal and hints of the cybernetic; its distinct rhythms splitting the difference between earthy tribal drums and mechanical factory works. Dracula was a hovering specter with a human heart pumping through a bamboo skeleton and hydraulic circuitry. Not as catchy on first listen, the slight shift in approach allowed the album to evolve, breathe, and come into focus like a developing Polaroid on repeated exposures. An even more deconstructed and abstract approach was presented through the accompanying Dark Jordan mixtape, full of b-sides, mutated vignettes, and demos. After my son was born in 2011, his mother and I went to see Nurses as our first solo night out together. As Dracula continued to grow on me, I also viewed it as further evidence of the limitless potential for growth for the project. But that was 6 years ago… and we’ve been waiting to see what would arrive next, ever since.
In December of 2012, Nurses used their Facebook page to announce the amicable departure of James Mitchell, leaving them as a duo once again and temporarily halting their ability to continue touring. Various other updates occurred between then and now, including Chapman recently getting married and Bowers relocating to Los Angeles. Soon after losing their drummer, the members performed a handful of live solo and/or DJ shows independent of one another and, by May of 2013, began performing in public as a duo again. That June, they announced that they were working on “new jamz,” and by August stated that they were “really excited about [their] next record” and that, although they were “still in the early stages of writing,” they could “kinda see it’s vague shape- like heat haze.” A month later they added, “So many new song ideas right now it feels like i’m on the Gravitron at the county fair after eating a chili cheese dog.” Images of them in the studio appeared, as well as references to working on new tunes, along with new live dates, but as 2014 rolled around, it brought with it the run on, “one-word” update of: “wereworkingontherecordthanksforbeingpatientwithuswellhaveitdoneassoonashumanlypossiblebutstillgonnabeaminuteinthemeantimefeelfreetosayhello.” In May, they mentioned that they were actually in the midst of recording the album and, In June, revealed that Neal Morgan (Bill Callahan, Joanna Newsom) was providing his drum skills to the sessions. That July they posted, “We’re getting closer with our record- i think we actually wrote 2 or 3 records… So after we finish this one hopefully another one will be right behind it. Maybe even a series I II III.” The traveled to New York to do more recording for the album the following month and again in September, stating that they were hoping to finish it then, and were exited to pour it on everyone’s head “like a bowl of milk.” This was 2014. In January 2015, Aaron was supposedly finishing vocals for the album in Portland, at which point John must have already been living in LA, as they worked with each other remotely. The album clearly wasn’t finished then and things pretty much continued this way with them later stating that they were taking a break from recording to do more shows all the way in September of 2015. The updates of progress kept coming in similar fashion, with John even releasing a solo album as Adventurous Sleeping in 2016. Just this February, the duo announced that they were listening to the finished product. For any fans that might have been waiting patiently over the last half-dozen years, I’d imagine that it would be difficult not to be cynical about such a claim, but this time it turned out to be the real deal.
After all of the time, effort, travel, relocation, re-evaluation, studio sessions, and re-recording over the years, Nurses finally announced a special album release show for their new album, Naughtland, this Halloween at Mississippi Studios with Portland locals, Golden Retriever included on the bill. The album itself, however, officially drops today [October 6th] and if you’re in the PDX area tonight, you can stop by a free listening party of Naughtland “accompanied by a screening of dance surveillance video performance collaboration with movement master Ryan Boyle.” Fortunately, for those of us unable to make it to tonight’s event, the full album/video is now available to hear/view online. You can also purchase Nightland now on bandcamp, with vinyl copies in the pipeline.
Check out the full (anti)music video below, after its accompanying description:
“An anti-music video for the surveillance age.
Performance artist/fashion designer Ryan Boyle is unafraid of who may be watching or what they might see.
Alternating between mundane domesticity and performative domestic surrealism, he confidently lounges, stretches, dances, and indulges our voyeuristic appetite.
Like the personification of the internet’s collection of cat videos, Boyle channels Bauhaus Ballet batting at a ball of string.”
Naughtland track list
“In the Mirror”
“Names You Know”