Nurses’ entire brand is built off personality. Granted, that brand is founded on the laurels of just two mostly unheralded albums to this point, but nevertheless, the band’s genetics have been fairly well established. On Dracula, not a whole lot has changed. Aaron Chapman’s vocals, the biggest thing that separates Nurses from their closest peers, are as sharp and addicting (and divisive, too) as ever. This is certainly a much more antiseptic record than their last, a progression that lends their sound a little more depth but sacrifices plenty of the organic, backyard-bred charm that helped make Apple’s Acre so infinitely redeemable.
Nurses’ third full-length begins with “Fever Dreams,” the lead single and prime point of introduction for what their sound brings to the fold. Industrial clicks and clacks quickly lead to wobbly guitar and percussion, which is then promptly washed over by Chapman’s challenging drawl. His words are difficult to understand at first, if only because he sings practically every note through his nose, his pitch and inflections equal parts airy and whimsical. It can be a challenging sound, but ultimately his vocals – as they have on previous releases – maintain a carefree quality that drives the mood forward successfully. “Fever Dreams,” like several tracks on this LP, can be a little bit repetitive, with only occasional splashes of cymbal between a lot of very similar moments and layers. Still, it’s a nice aesthetic and the harmonies are every bit as addictive as “Caterpillar Playground” or “Technicolor,” the two big Apple’s Acre standouts.
In the past, Nurses have been appropriately shuffled under the umbrellas of freak folk and neo-psychedelic rock. That hasn’t changed either, be it the squeaky effects that surround the hollow, loose drumming on “Extra Fast” or the brilliant explosiveness of “Gold Jordan,” which utilizes horns and represents quite easily the band’s most fully realized soundscape to date. It’s fantastic to hear the Portland band expand and indulge; most bands have rough production on early albums simply because that’s all they’ve been afforded, so it’s hard not to feel like albums that come further down the road backed by more proper studios are really the kind of thing that was intended all along. And there’s no doubt about it: Dracula is lush and focused, so clearly the band entered the studio with a vision. Still, these guys are at their best when au naturale. They sound good with production value bolstering their efforts too, but it’s not the same. Dracula just doesn’t have the character of Apple’s Acre or even Hangin’ Nothin’ but Our Hands Down, which might be their weakest record overall even if it did come packaged in a certain lovable, elemental messiness.
Dracula‘s key selling point is its accessibility. Concentrated hooks are fused well with crisp, poppy arrangements throughout, though sometimes the use of effects feel forced (“Dancing Grass,” the band’s four-and-a-half minute Animal Collective phase, is an example that really sticks out). The changes here have been small ones, but at least they’ve been well-executed and geared towards drawing in a broader audience. Even if it isn’t quite as organically endearing as their past work, Dracula successfully retains the same sensational personality that’s made them such a must-hear act.