A Larch is a deciduous tree. It is one of the northern hemispheres most dominant forms of plant life. It prefers colder climates such as the ones found in Canada or Russia. It cites it’s influences as Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire.
Hang on, wait a minute. I think I may have gotten mixed up in that opening paragraph. Oh, “Larches”. That’s what I was supposed to be talking about. A Folk rock sextet from North London, not a genus of the Pinaceae family. Yes, sorry, “Larches” are an alternative folk group from London with a fondness of Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire.
They’re also very, very good.
Folk music is the oldest form of popular music still aloud airtime on the radio. It’s what our ancestors shared from village to village hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago.In those days they entertained each other around camp fires using nothing but their voices and Lute’s.
As the years rolled on and travel over greater distances turned from dream to reality, the practitioners of folk music were able to pick up techniques and styles from further afield. Folk music grew and progressed out of the confines of any one area and opened it’s mind toward the holy grail of universal acceptance. It evolved to become music that could matter to peoples of all nationalities.
That is where modern folk found its revival. In being an eclectic mix of Anglo, Gallic and Scandinavian styles as well taking bits and pieces from North America, Africa and Australia, folk had broadened it’s horizons and therefore its appeal.Folk was once seen to be inward looking, clinging to tradition like a baby to a blanket. It was when it opened it’s mind and freed itself of those restraints it became a respectable form of music again. Perhaps even, dare I say it, cool.
This is where Larches find their grace. There are six members, many of whom have different jobs. There is a violin, an accordion, an organ, several kinds of percussion and at least three vocalists. It creates a sound that is layered, textured and endlessly replayable. It depends entirely on your mood which instrument you will notice each time you play the tracks. Even as I’m writing this I’m listening to the opening track “So It Goes” and for the first time hearing the faint sounds of a conversation in the background, the words muted and distorted.
It’s a perfect example of the overarching sound on the EP. Like all great folk music it captures perfectly the essence of the journey. For all of their limitations as an underground band they still manage to sound epic; their music creates images of Homer adrift at sea or Don Quixote fighting windmills.
But the journey undertaken in “Nurses Speak in Code” isn’t one traversed over the sea or land. It’s taken within the mind. The whole album has a dream like quality to it, soft, blurry, hazy, like a half forgotten memory that has become romanticized with time. The opening of the first track has a single solitary organ note fading in and, slowly, other pieces start to form around it until… Bang! The song is made whole with a sudden explosion of sound, like a man struggling to reminisce a treasured memory, but after finding the right components it all comes rushing back to him.
Every track becomes a different segment of the illusion, a different act to this imaginary play. The opener is the formation of this tale, it sets up the world and its rules. The second track, “By the Sea,” is like the part remembering the loss of something we greatly miss, not necessarily the person we remember, but the feeling we had when we were with them. The third track becomes the cure for that loss as we remember the good things we have taken from it, the things we have learnt and passed on.
The last track is, appropriately, the one where you wake up, sweating, breathing heavily, possibly even screaming. It has a manic urgency to it, each note is sharp, harsh and unforgiving, like the boots of the KGB marching through the fear stricken streets. The once soothing use of vocal harmony takes a sinister turn and becomes ominous, perhaps even omnipotent. Its the score to a scene of a young man being chased through a forest by his demons and regrets. It’s an apt ending to wake the listener up after it does such an excellent job to send them off in a trance.
“Nurses Speak in Code” is an outstanding début from a promising band. It is as confused and unfocused as a hallucination, stereo vocals sounding like the voices in you’re head, like your conscience in perfect unison; fragmented instruments layered one after the other creating a sense of uncertainty meaning you’re not exactly sure what you’ve heard after you’ve listened to it.
But it also creates the same sense of euphoria you get from a dream too. That feeling of nostalgia that washes over you, taking you back to the emotions you’ve lost as you’ve grown and matured. The feeling of freedom you once had as a child, beaten out of you by the modern world. And the feeling of calm that you lose as soon as this album stops playing and you have to go back the real world with all your real problems. So you have no choice but to play it again.