Originally a fraternal duo of Klive and Nigel Humberstone, Sheffield’s In the Nursery added a drummer and a female singer to further explore its bizarre brief: complex military-industrial music with classical pretensions. The band’s early efforts — a number of 12-inch singles, EPs and the Twins album, all of which are represented on the Counterpoint compilation — range from restrained atmospherics (the breaking waves and gothic organ of 1985’s “Arm Me Audacity” resemble soundtrack music for Dark Shadows) to brutal assemblies of martial beats, obscure vocals, synthesized accents and strings (as on Temper‘s shrieking “Breach Birth” and Twins‘ title track). Meanwhile, bowed electric bass provides striking counterpoint to the tingly strings in 1987’s “Blind Me,” an unsettling mix of cries and spoken dialogue. (The Counterpoint CD adds an alternate mix of “Breach Birth” and two more tantrums from Temper.)
Except for the scarcity of vocals, the ambitious Köda would be best described as operatic. Mainly using classical instrumental sounds and percussion, the stirring record glides smoothly from moody film music to march-able stridency, all of it seemingly designed to accompany — or evoke — theatrical action. If Art of Noise scored a German war epic, this might be the result.
Lifting Köda‘s portentous military cloud, the Humberstones turned over a romantic leaf on L’esprit, a graceful album of surprising gentleness that conjures up balletic images. Vocals play a significant role for the first time: “Sesudient,” “Retaliation” and “The Pearl” all float on Dolores Marguerite C.’s whispery French crooning; “To the Faithful” opens the record with the brothers’ surprisingly pleasant pop tones. Besides occasional somber passages, L’esprit does roll out the timpani and rat-a-tat-tat snare drum in “Tr„umerei,” but the dramatic intrusion only serves to heighten the album’s serene impact.