This is an odd album; not in a bad way, but it doesn't really sit easily anywhere in ITN's formidable discography. Although they have always adopted many diverse approaches and sounds, generally each recording has an aural 'theme' or identifiable sound that links all the pieces into a whole. This CD has a theme, but it is a chronological rather than a sonic conceit; and that theme is the year of the title: 1961.
1961 (a rare strobogrammatic year) was the date of the Humberstone twins birth, and taking this as a starting point, the songs all relate in some way to this year and the events that occurred during it.
Subjects range from Yuri Gagarin's successful journey into space, to the founding of Amnesty International and all points in between. The individual tracks and their instrumentation are similarly eclectic, utilising various elements previously employed throughout their long career. In this respect the album this new release most resembles is Blind Sound from 2011, and it shares some of the strengths and weaknesses of that album.
There are very definite high points (as set out below), but also stretches that are less than gripping.
Aptly enough for an LP dealing with the past, Until Before After starts off the album sounding like a lost track from the period between Cherished Dreams and Stormhorse, featuring driving Joy Division-style bass married with atmospheric strings and brass. Lyrically too, it deals with memory (of a lost love?) with a main lyric of "I heard it then. I hear it now. Still see your face. Everyday." and a repeated "Where are you now?" refrain.
Torschlusspanik is a minor miss-step, as the repeated choruses of "Khrushchev, Berlin, Kennedy" bring to mind the woeful attempts to make opera 'relevant' that was briefly in vogue in the mid '70s. Thankfully this fades away quite quickly, allowing the insistent strings to carry the tune. Consul is built around recordings of the idling engine of a 1961 Ford Consul, and is a muscular organ/guitar work out. I've always been partial to a bit of 'stops-out' organ where the notes rumble and distort, and this is pleasant enough, but ultimately no more than that.
Distorted vocals, feedback drenched guitar and heavily echoed bass notes create a shifting, almost liquid mass of sound that builds to minor crescendos and ebbs away again on Grand Corridor, but the production is slightly too restrained and polite to galvanise the listener. However, I can see it being a real high point live, with slightly more punch and (dare I say it?) melodrama. It doesn't sound unlike something that mid-period Bauhaus might have recorded, and I would like to hear what a real guitar-mangler like Daniel Ash would do with it.
Pacify has a stripped-back guitar sound that wouldn't sound out of place on a New Model Army release around the time of Thunder and Consolation, and a beautiful first few lines ("In this day. In this age. I am against death. Against a faceless enemy. Against futility"), which sadly don't quite make up for the subsequent rather clumsy lyrics.
The Earth Was Blue which deals with the beginnings of manned space-flight is the final track; and fittingly enough is a reflective, elegiac piece; almost mournful in its use of piano and strings. For me, this is the best track on this album, summing up the key theme - that of looking back at a different age - not necessarily with nostalgia, but there's a melancholic ache and a sense of yearning suffusing this album. Not, I think, for the year of 1961 itself, but for the sense of innocence and optimism for the future that it had (no matter how misplaced), and is now lost.
are moments of real beauty and grace on 1961, as well as
poetry, but also periods that lack focus. There are too many tracks
that just pass by, leaving little or no lasting impression. It is
this unevenness and lack of cohesion that means that this release
gets the relatively low (for ITN) score of 7/10.
Nick Hydra (November 2017)
I must admit to never having seen Jean Epstein and Luis Bunuel's 1928 film, which puts my ‘surrealist horror film geek’ status in some jeopardy. If I’m completely honest, I was only vaguely aware of its existence until recently, assuming that it was ‘lost’ if not entirely mythic. Rest assured, it’s an oversight that I intend to correct in the very near future.
Overall, the sound is quite similar to The Calling from 2013, although it lacks the grit of that previous work, probably as a result of being based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe, a man famous for the foregrounding of atmosphere over action, and inculcating a sense of nameless dread. (Un)Happily, this work succeeds very well in projecting that feeling of unease...
As you might expect, there are no ‘songs’ as such, and the tracks consist mainly of atmospheric bass drones, keyboard sweeps, wheezing harmoniums(?), and occasional piano and guitar flourishes. There are no sudden shocks or jumps – wind effects emerge and recede, wordless ethereal choirs wax and wane, and the various musical elements shift back and forth, creating a liquid, transient feel.
didn’t know better, I would almost imagine the film was set on-board
a ship at sea (although the in the story the titular House perches
on the edge of a marshy tarn, and a fair proportion of what footage
I have seen seems to take place on or near water). There are of
course stand out tracks, and they tend to be the ones that most
closely resemble ‘songs’. I imagine Cortege
compliments the internment of Madeline Usher; and it’s an
appropriately funereal arrangement of mournful piano and strings,
with one of the few uses of drums on the CD.
Double Silence features a simple refrain picked out on keyboard and guitar against the backdrop of a ticking clock, and is similar in style to a more restrained version of Ennio Morricone’s Western soundtracks. The Haunted Palace, which is the last track and presumably illustrates the climactic final scene wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1987’s Trinity 12”, featuring as it does stabbing, insistent strings, subtly otherworldly sound effects, and what sounds like a church organ and tubular bells.
It’s almost impossible to sift the different elements of each piece – is that a guitar processed to sound like a piano, a piano processed to sound like a guitar, or something else entirely? The minimalist sleeve credits don’t list any instruments, but the press release mentions “Traditional instrumentation (including shruti box and sansula*) plus spatial sound design” which doesn’t really get me any further forward, if I’m honest.
I’m fairly familiar with the plot of the original story, but the film is likely to have re-arranged or deleted all but the most central elements (and knowing Bunuel, possibly even those), so it’s difficult to assign particular tracks as the accompaniment to specific episodes, and the titles are little help in this respect (Magnetisme and An Insulated Incident being particularly baffling examples), but this is of little import.
soundtrack works perfectly well on its own haunted terms, and
although I intend to listen to it in tandem with the film at some
point, I can tell I’ll be playing it very often as a standalone
*No, me neither.
Nick Hydra (January 2016)
In a kind of adjunct to The Calling (their previous collaboration with Simon Beckett), ITN have recorded this special piece of music to help promote his new standalone thriller Stone Bruises.
I must confess I still haven’t got around to reading any of the books, so I’m in the dark as to how faithfully this recreates the atmosphere of Beckett’s work, but I’m guessing he approves as this is the second such ‘soundtrack’ ITN have produced.
Sinister drones underpin the piece throughout, while Spanish inflected acoustic guitar and maracas provide a hint as to the locale of the book. Minimal keyboard provide a further layer of texture in what is a deceptively simple three minutes evoking a ghost town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. You can almost see sand dunes forming among the abandoned buildings, and rattlesnakes gliding gracefully away from an unwarranted human presence.
An excellent addition to their already impressive body of work, which has moved from the propulsive, bass-driven Joy Division influenced ‘traditional’ song structures of the When Cherished Dreams Come True era, through the Sturm und Drang neoclassical period of Stormhorse, and on to the acclaimed soundtrack work of the Optical Music series.
I haven’t always been entirely enthusiastic about all of the work ITN have produced over their long career, but they’ve been consistently interesting, and have never stayed still for very long, constantly changing and developing their approach to making music.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the path that creating these new ‘imaginary soundtrack’ works are taking them down, as the dark subject matter is giving the material an edge that has been lacking on occasion previously. I look forward to more collaborations of this type. 8/10
According to the press release, The Calling “is a thematic soundtrack inspired by the Hunter series of books by international bestseller Simon Beckett. A mixture of new music, binaural field recordings, sound design, foley and readings by the author.” I must confess that I’m not familiar with Simon Beckett or the ‘Hunter’ books, so I can’t comment on whether the music does justice to his work. I am however, very familiar with In The Nursery’s work, having been a fan since the Trinity twelve inch.
As the press release suggests, this is a soundtrack of sorts, in much the way Stormhorse was a soundtrack to an imaginary film. As anyone who has followed their career will know, ITN have composed several soundtracks for pre-existing silent-era films, and performed them live at screenings. But there is a major difference between The Calling and their other soundtrack work (even Stormhorse) in that this is a much more contemporary sounding piece. There are still the trademark orchestral strings, but used in a more restrained way, creating a much darker, threatening atmosphere than their previous, more expansive work in this area.
You can easily imagine these pieces working as an accompaniment to some of the gloomier crime dramas that have come out of Scandinavia recently. It has a bleak greyness to it that wouldn’t sound out of place in The Killing for instance. Afterimage in particular evokes a very definite feeling of moving through a dark claustrophobic landscape (an abandoned factory’s half-lit corridors, perhaps?). The addition of field recordings and foley work (overdubbed footsteps, creaking doors and the like) make it an intense, immersive experience.
However, the vexed question for me was always going to be - Will it work with the author reading over the top of the music? Having been disappointed with 2001’s The Age of Defeat which featured Colin Wilson in a similar role, I was, to honest a bit concerned. Happily, it does indeed work, partly because the spoken word segments are quite short, and also self contained. This is a mood piece, there’s no attempt to tell a story with the text, which in any event is taken from several different books.
It is best experienced in a darkened room with no distractions, as the sound design has a lot of depth and is very well realised. But equally you can have it on in the background while you do something else and every so often a moment will reach out and grab you. If you’re new to ITN, this is not the best place to start (Try Blind Sound or Stormhorse from 2011 and 1987 respectively), but if you’re a fan of the band, you should definitely pick this CD up at the earliest opportunity. It’s a bit grittier than their usual work, but that can’t be a bad thing, surely? 9/10
Nick Hydra (February 2013)
Close to becoming elder statesmen of the UK martial music scene (“What scene?” I hear some shout!), any new In The Nursery release always garners a feverish anticipation from an often equally long-running faithful; and none more so than their regular studio albums. Their successful series of soundtracks to silent films meanwhile, released in parallel and steadily performed live for the last fifteen years, continue to put them in front of different, wider audiences across the globe. But most followers of the twins Humberstone have a special place in their hearts for the studio albums. And this is their first since Era in 2007.
2011 is the 30th anniversary of the first time the band took to the stage at Sheffield Art College in June 1981, and twin brothers Klive and Nigel turn fifty. So perhaps it ought not come as a surprise that they become a bit more reflective and contemplative than usual. But I didn’t see this coming. Artisans of Civilisation sets the tone for much that follows with Nigel providing vocals. Structurally, there are somewhat more traditional song structures than their fluid neo-classical or soundtrack material. I’ve written before on my uneasiness of such and after much listening I have to conclude that for me, on this opener, I think the vocals detract rather than enhance the music. I’m not convinced by the vocals being included on tracks that otherwise function just as well (or possibly better) as instrumentals or with vocals from regular collaborator Dolores Maguerite C. My reservations stem largely from the frequently awkward diction of the spoken lyrics. They never sit comfortably within the track, sounding instead as if a guest artist was given the underlying instrumentation and asked to add lyrics that may have been written for another purpose. The juxtaposition between austere spoken delivery and the lush scores is for me just too extreme.
On the plus side, the use of Humberstone vocals does instantly transport me back to my first encounter with ITN via their 1986 Twins album (where I think they work better), and it’s good to hear (and to see live recently) the old bass guitar return getting an airing and high profile. Second track Past Glory more satisfyingly blends the vocals and music and proves that I’m not entirely against the brothers’ voices. It also sounds remarkably similar to the tracks on Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio’s Songs of Hate and Devotion album also from earlier this year. It might not help that I cannot see or hear any sense of continuity or underlying idea or concept. Perhaps there isn’t one. This is one of their most stylistically diverse albums that’s for sure. It does have its quality moments, the beautiful, Far Eastern influenced instrumental Coloured Silence really stands out, and the unusually rougher-sounding percussion and performance style on Lecturns deserves further exploration. Blind Sound has garnered the band strong praise from other commentators, but for me it sometimes feels too intellectual, almost detached (in an academic way), largely failing to excite or enthral – something I’ve gotten used to (and probably a bit spoiled by) from In The Nursery. 7/10 by general standards, 6/10 by ITN's own higher ones.
Rob Dyer (December 2011)
Based on a transcript of the historical trial of Joan of Arc, Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc depicting the inquisition, trial and burning at the stake of the legendary French maiden is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made. Dreyer's innovative use of groundbreaking techniques, such as the extreme close-up, and a captivating performance by Rene Falconetti in the title role (her only on-screen performance) have helped secured its position as a film held in the very highest regard.
Anyone then attempting to provide a contemporary musical score for such a classic could, even with the best will intended, easily leave you wanting, or worse actually have a negative impact on the film itself. So there's no such thing as a safe pair of hands or a dead cert when it comes to old celluloid meeting modern aspiration. Still, if you had to take a bet, then putting money on serial instrumentalist soundscapers In The Nursery would be about as good as the odds can get.
Following on the back of some seriously top form in recent times this, their seventh score to a silent film as part of their ongoing Optical Music series, doesn't quite register as A Page of Madness did, but then this is a pretty ambient affair. This was commissioned with the help from the Sensoria Festival, where it received its world premiere performance, and Barbican Cinema who also screened it last year. Almost austere at times, the music is more mood setting than narrative and, like A Page of Madness, sees the band continue to stretch their capabilities and boundaries.
To be honest, it's hard to judge the success or otherwise of this as a score without seeing it working in the context it was created for. Since the album was released towards the end of last year, ITN have played a handful of dates where they have performed the score live to screenings of Dreyer's film. Unfortunately, I've yet to see the two combined but, taking the album on its own merits, it seems that the brothers Humberstone have been careful not to overwhelm the images. The potential joy of seeing this performed live with the film aside, fingers at least are crossed that (unlike many of the others ITN have created new scores for) this film is reissued on DVD with the In The Nursery score as an audio option. Only once heard as it was designed to be - in sync with Dreyer's timeless moving images - can a truly accurate and full assessment be reached on just how successful it has been. But as a stand alone soundtrack - another success this undoubtedly is. 7/10
Rob Dyer (June 2009)
Rather than mark their 25th year of releases with a celebratory compilation, ITN have simply produced another of their distinctive suites of compositions. There are unquestionably reflections of previous career milestones here and there, but whether or not this is conscious self-referencing or it is just serendipity I don't know. Given the band's desire to continually focus on the here and now, rather than the past, you'd think it's the latter. I'm not so sure.
Era showcases some of ITN's finest work so far. The album is described by the band as exploring the themes of architecture, urban decay and regeneration. Things unfold in classic ITN manner with Blueprint. Questions of architecture aside, could the title also be a nod to some of the building blocks of the unmistakable In The Nursery sound? Perhaps that's part of the intention with the entire album. Does Era refer back to the past as much as the present? Is the choice of title a deliberate attempt almost to summarise the twenty five year era that Nigel and Klive Humberstone have been creating? I can't help believing that it does and is.
Regular vocal contributor Dolores Marguerite C blends her whispered vocals with the music just as comfortably as ever. Our brothers have also enlisted the talents of Sarah Jay Hawley who is perhaps best known for her work with Massive Attack. She appears on three tracks. Several songs are what you might describe as instantly recognisable as ITN compositions. There's something very immediate about the suite of songs on Era. They simultaneously evoke the past but are unquestionably contemporary and this makes them rapidly accessible.
The greatest impact comes from Material & Form, Kryptka and Landlost where the dynamic and emotional range of their film soundtrack work can be heard. The truly remarkable Vantage is an instant classic; immediately establishing itself as one of the band's best songs ever. It elegantly encapsulates everything ITN stand for in compositional terms. It's a fine example of all that they do best, almost an archetypal ITN creation. Quite a glorious achievement. The only drawback is with the highs being just so high, other tracks pale slightly in comparison, meaning as a whole it's just a touch too uneven to be unequivocally great. It's a very close call though. 8/10
Rob Dyer (November 2007)
Magical, poetic, inspired; In The Nursery's latest soundtrack is all these things and more. Without a doubt, their most mature (and subtle) score so far, A Page of Madness sees the two English brothers finally, firmly, step into the professional big league. For some years, their studio albums have been used in film soundtracks. Having a natural affinity with the genre, they began composing new soundtracks to films from the silent era. This is the latest entry into that strand of the ITN canon and, in their long, hard-working 25+ year career, A Page of Madness establishes itself as a landmark composition. I'd be surprised if history did not show this to be a watershed moment for the band.
The title is a taken from a Japanese 1926 film directed Teinosuke Kinugasa. The film tells the story of a retired sailor who takes a job as a janitor in an insane asylum so he can look after his wife, who has been locked away after she tried to drown their child. ITN's score deftly utilises Japanese instrumentation. Its incorporation into the compositions is never awkward or forced, providing a beautiful natural accompaniment to the more western elements. That's not to say this is an exercise in sweetness and light. Given the film's subject matter, the Humberstone's writing conveys menace, nervousness and madness itself. Yet throughout it remains an enormously satisfying experience, one that has me hankering after a live performance in support of seeing Kinugasa's film.
In The Nursery have been writing wonderful music for all their adult lives. Yet rarely have they managed to match the utter poignancy of this lyrical lesson in forlorn love, a lament for an inner beauty - captured in sound waves. Quite simply, A Page of Madness is a masterwork, and one that I wholeheartedly commend to you all. 9/10
Rob Dyer (November 2004)
Having recently furnished Singapore Airlines with the music for their global ad campaign, it seems the wider world is finally beginning to pick up on this sibling duo's undoubted talent. Their prodigious output is as prolific as it is impressive. At least that's most of the time. However, with Praxis, although the objective of trying something a little different is apparent (and welcome), the results sound less rewarding than many of its forbears. Which is a shame as the presentation, in both the package design and song titles, is among the band's very best. The introduction of new female vocalist Katz Kiely on Outburn is among the most rewarding developments. One of the more overtly 'mainstream' style vocalists ITN have ever employed pays significant dividends. The Humberstone twins' widening objective here fulfilled in satisfying splendour.
In contrast are Ethics of Belief and Concept, where Nigel and Klive give their rarely exposed vocals outings that remind one of their early, naive material and confirms that they are best leaving those duties to others more naturally equipped to fulfil them. Although the album does have its high moments (like the gloriously shimmering opening bars of Vocopolis) and, of course, the production and attention to composition detail is as sharp as ever, the overall result is curiously easy to forget. Whilst I'm sure many fans will feel rewarded by the element of diversity that Praxis introduces to the ITN canon, for this enthusiast it doesn't quite come off. Still, all credit to them for attempting to widen their perspective. 6/10
Rob Dyer (May 2004)
For their twenty-fifth (yes, that's 25th!) album, Sheffield's In The Nursery twins, Nigel and Klive Humberstone, have come up with something that, for regular listeners at least, is an unexpected surprise - a compilation album of other bands covering ITN songs. The one exception to this is ITN's own cover of Joy Division classic Love Will Tear Us Apart. Theirs is a distinctly unique take on the song, slowed down and with an unusual vocal approach, this is likely to appeal and repel in equal measure to fans of Joy Division. But since this album will sell predominantly to ITN fans, they may be more open to the singular variation. I certainly like it.
Of the twelve other artists, Flesh Field's opening cover A Rebours [against nature], Faith & the Muse's Angelorum [fifth angel], Chandeen's Belle Epoque [interpretation], Miracle Road [do you remember?] by Steve Bennett and Ivan Lusco's take on El Secreto [it] are all very impressive. In each instance, the source material is readily identifiable yet the artists manage to stamp a distinctive and imaginative quality all of their own. Others are slightly disappointing by comparison, but Attrition's To The Faithful [in remembrance] is not only unrecognisable but quite unlike anything else by Martin Bowles' long-running band. An eccentric delight for Attrition fans for sure.
There's little attempt at taking the tracks onto the dance floor, and those that do tend to up the tempo and introduce more beats seem more strained than the rest. But the weaker tracks are by far in the minority, meaning Cause + Effect is a cracking compilation that fans of ITN cannot afford to be without. Whilst those curious, vaguely familiar or fans of any of the featured artists would do well to get hold of too. 7/10
"Engel" (Album, 2001)
The ITN production machine rolls on. This time, however, it's a departure in that Engel is the soundtrack to a German multimedia game project that unites music, images and texts. This retains all the hallmarks of the finely honed ITN style, but does depart slightly from their regular studio albums.
Not known for their wild unpredictability, Engel is more of a logical progression of In The Nursery's regular work and features re-recordings of two early classics - Blue Religion and To The Faithful. The re-take of Blue Religion in particular works extremely well. The original was one of my all-time favourite ITN tracks. The new version here has a more mature sense to it, more urgency and is transformed by a terrific, live bass guitar - complete with sliding fret work. This could even surpass the original. Moments during the remainder utilise sounds that would not be out of place in ITN's dancier side project Les Jumeaux, but still Engel remains firmly in the film soundtrack camp throughout. It also builds upon their last album, Groundloop's, supreme blending of electronic and wind and string instrumentation. Trace elements of earlier ITN compositions seem to emerge occasionally - a perception I often get when listening to ITN. Cathedral of Thoughts is an example of this. A classic In The Nursery composition if ever their was one. The mellow Aftermath is a subdued, melancholic masterpiece that effortlessly lilts its way through six minutes - seemingly over in a fraction less. Sigils follows immediately behind and continues the sense of an epic journey nearing its end. Beautiful distant voices and the impression of wood creaking upon water.
I can only assume that New Zealand director Peter Jackson has never heard of the Humberstone twins. I'm sure that if he had, it would have been In The Nursery that would have supplied the score that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring truly deserved. In many ways, this is closer to ITN's Optical Music series of new scores written for silent films, in that it has to enhance images and work independently as an album in its own right. The good news, for those who don't have access to the game that spawned this, is that Engel is a rather fine work in its own right. All wrapped up in a typically sumptuous package. 7/10
Official Engel website: http://www.engel-net.com
"Groundloop" (Album, 2000) !Recommended!
Inexplicably, largely overlooked in their native UK, Sheffield-based twins Nigel and Klive Humberstone release their 22nd album in 17 years (!) - their output including various film soundtracks, compilations and side projects. Despite this prolific workrate, they receive minimal coverage in the UK press. Thankfully, this is made up for overseas, where their longevity is appreciated by thousands of fans widely displaced across the globe and more frequent press interest.
If you're new to In The Nursery (ITN) then their unusual blend of the electronic and classical could initially be a bit disconcerting. Lush strings (real and synthetic) sit alongside epic percussion, military snare, oboe, flute, guitar and dance beats producing a truly unique sound that is midway between sumptuous film soundtrack and ambient dance music. Past albums have tended to focus on one thread of this stylistic fabric but with Groundloop their ability to successfully and impressively combine these often disparate elements into one package has reached new heights. I've heard it said before that when you have one ITN album you've got them all. The same thing is frequently said of John Barry's Bond film scores. But both are wrong. Like Barry before them, ITN have managed to find a niche and mine it so that the exploration of a particular musical furrow becomes a journey of discovery for creators and listeners alike.
As with most (all?) ITN albums, Groundloop has been conceived with a distinct agenda and aim in mind. With only eight tracks, rapidly covering a modest 43 minutes running time, it is all over much too soon. But if there's one rule in music it's leave 'em wanting more, and this ITN do perfectly with this latest album. One has to admire their ingenuity in making that instrumental butt of all musical jokes, the panpipes, seem to be the only sound known to mankind that could possibly be used to such captivating effect on allegory. Backed by the epic percussion mentioned earlier, this piece was surely intended as the accompaniment to a sweeping helicopter shot of a beautiful waterfall - somewhere in the depths of the Amazonian rainforest. Like several of the tracks here, displaced begins in one direction and suddenly morphs into another. In this case, the transformation is triggered by the introduction of a sequencer bearing all the hallmarks of John Carpenter at his finest.
Once more, Dolores Marguerite C delivers the versatile vocals, be they in English, French or Spanish. She appears on five of the eight tracks - more than usual for the brothers whose output is largely instrumental. This is a very strong suite of compositions (admittedly with some fleeting hints of the past). The glorious imparator has its plucked acoustic guitar sequencer sound and mellow strings, whilst chronicle is an exemplary lesson to all in how to create inventive ambient dance music. This track the culmination of years of experimentation by ITN in this direction. The intelligent floating SF soundscape of synature suddenly and unexpectedly conjures up images of night-time in some middle eastern desert. Finishing with the signature ITN electronic/classical blended style of qui mal, Groundloop is ITN's most perfectly-realised (non soundtrack) release for several years. Fans of old will be delighted by the achievements of this album and newcomers would find this an ideal embarkation point on their journey into the musical realm created by In The Nursery. Brimming with cleverly tempered tension and drama, Groundloop may be short in length but it's long on style. Recommended. 8/10
Official In The Nursery website: http://www.inthenursery.com