In The Nursery
The Calling (Instrumentals)
I suppose The Calling makes sense in a weird sort of way. A theoretical chart of In The Nursery’s career would show a gradual shift from the rigid bombast of their earlier, sample and synthesizer based compositions towards more flowing and organic forms of composition, a change facilitated by the advancement of technology, increasing access to actual, non-electronic session musicians and the development of twin brothers Nigel and Klive Humberstone as arrangers and producers. Still, even with the benefit of history to inform us, I daresay I wasn’t prepared for The Calling, a nominal soundtrack for the forensic crime novels of author Simon Beckett, and that more often than not seems to takes its cues from the world of post-rock.
Currently available as an instrumental version from iTunes and emusic, apparently a forthcoming version of the record will include readings from Beckett, snippets of which can be currently heard on Youtube. It’s not hard to imagine where the Sheffield based writer’s voice will be wedged into the record, much of its 63 minute run time is given over to incredibly subtle and textural mood pieces, barely present synths scraping over field recordings with atmosphere as primary concern. Sometimes, as on “Third Movement” what sounds like a sample of some more prosaic piece of music has been processed and has decayed to the point where it contains more noise than harmonic content. Elsewhere piano is deployed in the most sparing of ways, lending the barest trace of melody to tracks like “Inhale” or “Entoptics” which are otherwise assembled from blocks of glacial and oblique sound, sonic remnants left in the wake of something we as listener never got to hear.
Those techniques effective as a backdrop certainly, although perhaps a touch too subtle for regular listening. The record’s broadest and most enjoyable moments are when it invokes the tropes of instrumental post-rock, the judicious use of reverb, My-Bloody-Valentine-from-three-rooms-over walls of muffled distortion, and bassy piano evoking the more laid back moments of bands Laura or Explosions in the Sky. It’s an entirely different kind of grandeur than the twins normally deal in, and is interesting in how it adds to their palette, although they rarely go full bore with it. Only “Tenure 1” and “Tenure 2” flirt with Mogwai-styled builds, for the most part they play it back as a counterpoint to other bits of sound, emerging from the background of dusky numbers like “Capture and Control” or “3 am”. Even when flirting with their martial and neo-classical roots on “Afterimage” and “Aspect Dawn”, there’s a sense that ITN are holding back, never allowing fully formed songs to coalesce, reminding us that this is music meant as accompaniment more than anything else.
And that’s really what defines The Calling (or at least the version we currently have access to anyway). There’s a feeling of interstitiality to the proceedings, that this music and noise is intended to go beneath and between other elements. In the absence of the latter it lacks a certain fullness as a solo listen, a critique which has a certain irony of its own; long before In The Nursery were composing their own scores for silent films of being licensed to HBO productions they were making music that seemed fit for soundtracks but didn’t lack as an experience of its own. Still, critiquing the record for being what it sets out to be is petty, and although I might question the value of releasing the instrumental version well before we get to hear it in the context it was built for, there’s still something here for those of us who follow les jumeaux. If nothing else it’s another voyage ever deeper in their exploration of the possibilities of where the ideas of sound and music intersect, and separate.