Nurses w/ AU, Wet Wool
By Dom Sinacola | 12 October 2011
We walked into the Holocene and what was immediately apparent: renovations! That such a thought was just as soon followed by the brain ejaculate “In this economy?!”, all indignant even inside my head, was reason enough to feel suddenly, undeservedly old. Also? I’m 28. Just turned 28, in fact, last week—if you haven’t wished me a happy birthday, I’ve already taken it as an affront; and also, why don’t you ever call home?—so at the time of this Nurses show, I was 27.
The Holocene is a reformed art space, with high ceilings designer-ly threaded by so many wood beams more than half must be superfluous, and a bar manned by a recently ‘zine-elected Favorite Portland Bartender. One wall is decked out like a siege tower with kill holes slit horizontally down the middle, filled with upwards of a hundred candles instead of, say, feathers from loosed arrows or dried, rust-red blood; another wall is a chalkboard. Last Halloween they projected Hausu on another big white-washed wall while local indie darlings “played” their own soundtracks—which mostly involved an annoying band like Reporter playing an annoying set of album cuts fit sorely into the movie’s middle. No one seemed to mind. Reporter is hip around here. And when Roommate finally came to town last August, he told me he tried three times to get a hold of someone at the Holocene; they never responded. The Holocene is pretty fucking cool, is what I’m saying.
It’s also one of my favorite venues in Portland: the sound is somehow both pristine and swarthy; the space is small but accommodating; the bar is stocked well; the shows are cheap; the kids are good looking; it’s always crowded and yet there is no sign on the building. These are the exigencies of attending a Nurses show, where Nurses can easily pack a space like the Holocene, and after a Nurses show one almost senses Nurses wouldn’t exist as Nurses do without the exact experience and space the Holocene provides. Because Nurses make music seething with audible youth: from lead singer Aaron Chapman’s mistimed-growth-spurt blart to the lyrics that, even when unintelligible, speak of waiting, killing time, and the inevitability of both (seriously, when Chapman sings, “Inevitable,” he draws it out into pebbly bits, each half-syllable sharp and full of resentment), to dude’s sparkly sweater acting an ersatz disco ball for those crotch-up against the stage, Nurses are a young band popularized by a young community.
Or maybe it just felt that way. At their Dracula record release show, the trio pounded front-to-back through their third album of tabula rasa pop, their second for awesome imprint Dead Oceans. And I mean “tabula rasa” not as a slight; I just feel like practically anything could be written onto their elemental beats and almost-primordial vocals, any noise or flourish or confused personal lyric, so straightforwardly do they seem to tap into one’s baser pleasure centers. Theirs is a brand somewhere between dance pop and whatever it is Joan of Arc spews readily into the world at every waking moment, and so they enter a famine’d musical landscape as simply another mouth to feed. But Dracula is also impossible to not move to. The whole thing really: a stretched-out synapse where the brain is telling the body to move and the body tells the brain to look alive, and the body shudders in satisfaction at the poppier bent this new album has as it reflects on the band’s small canon, and then the brain responds that said reflection is an exaggeration. It lasted about forty minutes.
Of demonstrative live growth was the album’s closer, “Eternal Thrills,” which transformed from an odd, claustrophobic recording to a mini-celebration, the sound blossoming into every corner of the cool little place, helped by two Typhoon horn players who appeared on-stage like faerie mediums. But what’s a Holocene party without Typhoon in attendance, especially when 30% of the band fills out 60% of the audience? I half expected balloons to shower from hidden compartments in those decorative ceiling beams.
There, that night, I was convinced that Dracula was an important album in 2011—important for Portland and important for their label. Now, not so much, though I do still dig it quite a bit. I chalk the revelation up to the whiteness of the walls and the write-less of the band’s rasa; you could see it in everyone’s pretty and pretty muddied eyes: possibility impregnable. Music with so much possibility to lump onto it, and so much undaunted early-20-something sex unheeded by consequence, indifferent to employment, occupying Portland and moving and caring about things that don’t matter—it was lovely.
First opener Wet Wool had been through a song and a half before I realized they weren’t sound-checking; this I giggled at. The half of the band wearing a cardigan bowed the fuck out of his guitar; this delighted me. Then second opener AU axed all assumptions I had of them after seeing them at MFNW two years ago, sweating out the showier tangents of their instrumentals and trying out a few vocal melodies. It was wonderful, especially expecting nothing like that. I felt as Brian Eno would have felt if Coldplay actually sounded the way he wanted them to sound.
And then, as I bristled with discovery, Nurses came on and modestly made their way through their newest album. And for about an hour I could’ve sworn not a whiff of cynicism breached the room. If this is the Dream of Portland then I probably am too old for this place. It’s unfortunate.