Review Summary: The 25-minute masterpiece “Music for Nurses” seems like the very best parts of an Oceansize album compressed as much as possible.
Oceansize are known for putting out lengthy, ambitious albums with tons of material on them. So it is quite surprising that by far their best effort to date has been a 25 minutes long EP called “Music for Nurses” released in October 2004. Often termed a companion to the debut “Effloresce” or a little appetizer to pass the time to the follow-up “Everyone Into Position”, this secret masterpiece is an extremely overlooked album by the band from Manchester, UK.
This album is as inventive as music can be, blending in styles like (post-)metal, alternative, (post-)hardcore, progressive rock, noise, ambience and hints of post-rock, all of them complementing one another and adding up to a perfect mixture. There’s enough material on the 5 tracks of “Music for Nurses” to fill more than only one full-length album with. Hardly a riff is repeated over more than a few seconds, no drum pattern that is kept longer than necessary. The music is constantly on the change, a wink of a moment of absence is enough to lose track of what’s going on. Which leads us to the one problem this album has: it’s extremely hard to get into. That’s true of any Oceansize album, but “Music for Nurses”, beside it’s short running length, is for sure the most complicated and complex but also the most focused record they’ve made to date. Still, despite the constant changes the ever-evolving music never seems forced - once you’re used to it, it becomes clear that every break and every riff is perfectly in place.
Fans of the studio albums can be taken aback by “Music for Nurses” at first, just like I was. All the long, building and psychedelic instrumental passages that made the end of “Effloresce” so great are gone here. Actually the whole softer side of Oceansize is reduced to brief glimpses throughout the album, yet they are as beautiful as anything the band has done. The focus lies on the band’s heavy side; they’ve never been afraid to write heavy songs but they’ve never done it to such an extent either.
Instrumentally “Music for Nurses” is slightly superior to the band’s other albums: especially Mark Heron’s drumming belongs to the best I’ve ever heard. The vocals are also quite different from the other albums: there are the softer lead vocals by Mike Vennart, often providing a wonderful counterpart to the music and there are hardcore-like screams by Steve Durose. Both of the singers are playing guitar as well and considering that the band has even a third guitarist (Gambler), who also plays the keys next to bassist and keyboarder Jon Ellis, the sound is appropriately epic and broad. In order to achieve that sound a lot of credit has to be given to the perfect and amazingly detailed production, done by Chris Sheldon (who also produced their debut and 2007’s “Frames”) and Mark Williams, settling in just between the rougher sound of “Effloresce” and the polished one of “Everyone Into Position”. It can be smooth and soft, but it’s mostly rough and gritty, giving the album an extremely dark feeling. Still there are so unbelievably many little details and effects that the album can never become boring.
The lyrics are a point where I’m not really in the know, but that’s true of any Oceansize album. All of them have a feeling like they want to tell something, but I just can’t say what it is. I have some assumptions with all of the songs, but I won’t share them - I guess it’s up to every listener to interpret them on his own. But all of them are wonderfully written and they mirror both the desperation (“Just to make you see how I am striving to make a fist”
) and the anger (“All you have belongs to me / Glamour pigs media whores / Let blood run like a water fall”
) the album conveys.
A detailed description of the songs is impossible and wouldn’t help anyone, so here’s just a sketchy and fragmentary overview to get an idea of what awaits you: “Music for Nurses” shoots forward with the merciless opener One Out of None
(sometimes spelled like one out of nONE
or One Out of nOne
) and knocks down the listener with full power. It is one of the most break-filled songs I’ve ever listened to, not any ten seconds of the music sound the same. Still it does never sound random, but builds towards an epic ending where the song is drowned in a wall of noise. Paper Champion
chooses a different path, it builds from a slow start with a trip-hop flow, reminiscent of Massive Attack, to a long crescendo, going through all kinds of changes until it hits its breathtaking peak. The last three tracks flow seamlessly together and build another big crescendo. Starting with ambient effects and the organ of Drag the ‘Nal
, the most relaxing moment on the album, we move over to Dead Dogs an’ All Sorts
. It opens with clean guitars and careful drumming over the remaining sound layers of the previous track, a mixture that sounds like alternative rock, even more so when the almost whispered vocals join the music. But it doesn’t take long until everything begins to build until it reaches an extremely heavy, distorted climax, from where As the Smoke Clears
takes over. The last song soon lets the heaviness fade and plays along with clean guitars and soft harmonies just to take up speed and power again, builds and builds, until it is cut off at its heaviest point and the album is ended by a closing minute of ambience.
“Music for Nurses” is a glorious effort, one of the most complex and focused albums ever recorded, an EP that feels so much longer than it actually is. It might seem too abstract and compressed at first, but with time it unfolds its brilliancy and turns into a masterpiece. While I recommend it to any open-minded listener, I have to commit that it might be not the best starting point for anyone new to Oceansize because it covers mainly the heavy side of the band’s repertoire and leaves out many of their other qualities. But what it does, it does with a breathtaking power and certainty.