Larsen & Nurse With Wound - Erroneous - A Selection of Errors [Important Records - 2010]Being a longtime fan of Nurse With Wound, I was excited to hear Stapleton had put together another collaborative work, and thought it fitting that he would have chosen a band from the post rock genre, though I was hitherto familiar with Larsen.
The resulting album, "Erroneous", is somewhere between a split and a full blown collaboration. Like many of Nurse With Wound's past collaborators, Larsen's contributions serve to make Stapleton's erratic, nonlinear collages musical and listenable. "Erroneous" seldom plays with the listener's attention and patience as nearly any of the classic NWW recordings ("Homotopy to Marie", "The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion", "Salt Marie Celeste") undoubtedly do. This recording, even in its most drawn out moments, is full of activity, variety and intrigue.
With a hiss of white noise and a flange, 17 minute opener "Tickety-Boo" kicks in like a valve opening. Robotic baritone gibberish vocals enter and abruptly disappear, never to return. Starting at 2:30, this track brings the steady, simple, Krautrock-inspired beat that seasoned NWW fans may have learned to expect by now, recalling similarly repetitive material from the albums "Rock & Roll Station" and "She and Me Fall Together In Free Death". These are the same kind of dry, acoustic sounding yet inhumanly constant drum sounds we heard on those old NWW records, but they are processed with a newfound subtlety and agility. The sounds are smelted down completely into shrieking, synthetic-sounding digital fragments, only to be reprocessed once more and transmuted back into something resembling the sound of a drum. Transitions between motifs and sample sets are so fluid that the entire beat has been replaced before the listener registers a change.
Rapidfire bursts of static signify each new musical passage. Most passages are short variations on the main theme - the main theme here consisting of a rhythm and its accompanying bassline (Stapleton has coupled this trick with a surprisingly traditional 'Theme and Variations' form ever since "Spiral Insana" in the mid 80's) . Each variation finds the listener immersed in another marvellously layered and unique realm of unpredictable effects and ambiences, usually heavy on deep, surreal reverb. Though listed as a collaboration on NWW's official site, everything here sounds like pure Stapleton with the possible exception of a brief noise guitar solo in the last 5 minutes, which doesn't change the mood or texture of the piece much, but provides additional ear candy. All in all, it's a successful track, though certainly a strange, lengthy and arguably anticlimactic start to a collaborative album like this one.
"Driftin' By" is nearly as long as its predecessor, with a running time of 14:36. This, too, is familiar ground for Stapleton: murky atonal drone that floats slowly and aimlessly as if reflecting states of partial consciousness - not at all dissimilar to his three Shipwreck Radio releases. There is not as much to absorb here as in the first track, and overall this soundscape doesn't hold my attention quite as well, but the smoky, glassy tones on offer here have a luminescent beauty, and quite often linger closer to melody than I would usually expect of Stapleton. The noise guitar returns as well. Perhaps these sounds are Larsen at work. They don't keep us guessing for the entirety of the album, luckily; Larsen's contibutions to the music become increasingly obvious from this point in the album onwards, and give it an emotional warmth most of Stapleton's work sorely lacks.
After the 2 epics, we have 4 shorter songs, all penned in whole or in part by Larsen. "Rock, Baby, Rock" begins with wine glasses singing beautifully two notes in alternation. A bass plays along, and from here on the recording proceeds very much in a post-rock vein, albeit with more textural diversity than usual. Simple, sentimental loops and riffs from a muffled, phased out guitar sound in intertwining vibration over a sluggish, consistent quarter note from the ride cymbal. Instruments enter and exit in a pleasant ebb and flow. If Larsen was undetectable in the previous two tracks, Stapleton is virtually absent here. Comparisons to Sigur Ros or other post rock bands would not be unjustified, though there is certainly less urgency here than in much of that music.
For better or for worse, "Cob-Kite Toy" is the only 6 minutes of truly seamless mind meld between the two groups achieved on "Erroneous". Stapleton's even, delayed percussion meets Larsen's chorused guitar loops, and this euphoric march is the result. They top it off with a breezy layer of oceanic pads and bell tones. The air of timeless calm with which NWW imbued pieces like "Funeral Music for Perez Prado" proves with this track to be a perfect match for Larsen's laid back, warm-hearted expressions of universal oneness. The sonic fullness, instrumentation and bursting spiritual energy of the music bring to mind the music of Swans (who indeed helped to found the post rock genre), which is high praise coming from me.
The album ends with two tracks by Larsen alone. For "Call Me, Tell Me", they take the energy of "Cob-Kite Toy" and runs with it, as if it were another movement to the same song. Ambiences congeal into lovely shimmering chime melodies. Soon, Larsen's drummer lets some of his power and tribal groove shine through his retraint in a churning post-rock buildup, dominated by lush, echoing distorted guitar sustain. The confusion of the album's opening tracks seems to fall away, and "Erroneous" starts to feel like an album with a narrative. Admittedly, it's very nearly too late at this point, and it serves mostly as a taste of what could have been if the two bands had created a more focused collaboration, but it's a wonderful track. A triumphant, theramin-like moan extends over the ambience and ends this album highlight.
"Bug Vaudeville" is another version of "Rock, Baby, Rock", a version in which the gritty garage rock timbres are able to emerge and sound more intimate without the masking smoothness of the processing they had in that track. All sounds here are much closer to naked acoustic form than anywhere else in the album. The string drones that appear halfway through are nice, but overall it feels too similar to the previous version to justify its inclusion. It makes for an anticlimactic ending.
Overall, "Erroneous - A Selection of Errors" is a listenable, diverse and sonically gorgeous album that none-the-less finds Nurse With Wound and Larsen struggling to locate a thematic common ground. Like many of NWW's collaborative albums, there are glimpses of synergistic brilliance, but also a ubiquitous sense that the creative dynamics between these musicians were still in their early developmental stages during the creation of this recording. The individual inventiveness and professionalism of each of the groups involved saves "Erroneous" from being a total mess. This album should be a good listen for fans of either band, or the styles of music they're associated with. Josh Landry