From Nursery to Misery

Pixies in the Woods

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The story of Essex, England's From Nursery to Misery almost sounds like it could've been made up for a short film to be screened at a film festival (even more so when one watches the brief documentary about the group which was filmed in 2015). In 1987, keyboard player Lee Stevens invited his neighborhood friends Gina and Tina Fear (identical twin sisters) to sing over instrumentals he had recorded on his 4-track. All three were teenagers at the time. Their music was haunting, atmospheric, and lo-fi, with simple yet inventive drum programming and gauzy keyboard textures, as well as the Fear sisters' naïve, untrained vocals. The group aimed to make pop music, but their songs resembled spoken diary entries set to music as much as demos for a teenage darkwave band. The sisters have felt a life-long spiritual bond with each other, and it's virtually impossible to tell them apart (at least on record). Pixies in the Woods is a compilation LP featuring tracks from both of the group's cassette albums, a split EP with Nostalgie Eternelle, and several compilation appearances, in addition to previously unreleased material. The selections vary from mystical narratives (the quasi-religious "Primitive Lands") to upbeat yet elegiac instrumentals ("Kill Your Dancing Dreams, Pt. 2") to wistful, nostalgic tunes ("The Oak Tree"). Some tracks feature dub echo effects, sampling techniques, and upbeat rhythms which may or may not have been attempts to imitate the dance music trends of the time (is that the KLF's familiar "eternal" sample popping up during "Insight"?); it's hard to tell how in tune with the outside world the members of From Nursery were. "The Ritual" is one of the group's more uptempo tracks, but its spoken lyrics serve as a brutal form of self-therapy, reflecting on loneliness, sexual desire, anxiety, and a multitude of other painful subjects. "The Enemy Is Listening" is similar, juxtaposing bright, bouncy synths with paranoid lyrics about subliminal messages and spying cameras. Pixies in the Woods is a fascinating, revealing collection which posits From Nursery to Misery as one of the more intriguing stories from the late-'80s/early '90s cassette underground.

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