Album Review: Ringing in the new year with Bahamas is Afie

Happy New Year, folks!

You know that saying about friends lasting a reason, a season or a lifetime? The same is true of music in our lives, don’t you think?

Every now and then you come across an album that takes hold of you from start to finish on the first listen. And the second. And the third. And every other listen. It becomes the soundtrack to your life. You actually look forward to washing dishes or organizing the closet or mowing the lawn because the chore is another opportunity to listen to it and meditate on the music. You take a walk with it to see how it paints your neighbourhood in a different light. And you go for a drive with it because, really, there are few places where your favourite music sounds as good as it does on the road, accompanied by passing landscape within the cocoon of a moving vehicle.

On the road is where I listened to the latest Bahamas album, Bahamas is Afie, for the first time. (Afie is Afie Jurvanen.) It was a Christmas gift from my parents, and the three-plus-hour drive from my hometown of Owen Sound back to St. Catharines allowed for three listens of it. And I’ve listened to it at least another ten times since. It’s the perfect escort into 2015.

Bahamas is Afie is a beautiful, reflective work of art. The production just blows me away. Subtle and spacious, just the way I like it. Intimate. Crescendos that ebb and leave you wanting more. Interesting melodies. Warm tones. Airy background vocals. Slow grooves. Amazing bass drum and snare sounds. Simple but satisfying bass lines. Unexpected rhythmic and melodic shifts. Beautiful arrangements. And the lyrics! He makes songwriting sound so easy.

A record is its own entity, of course. The songwriters, musicians, producers and recording engineers infuse it with their energy and emotions and ideas. Their musical influences seep in, colouring the recording. Then, when we listen to it, our own musical influences highlight certain hues. Given that The Beatles have been the most formative musical force in my life, I tend to hear parallels between their music and other works.

For example, the string arrangement on Bahamas’ “Can’t Take You With Me” has a George Martin-like sensibility reminiscent of the string arrangement on The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The guitar solos and tones in “Bitter Memories” and “Stronger Than That” remind me of George Harrison’s subtle style. The “ha-ah” background vocals of “All the Time” remind me of the background vocals on The Beatles’ “Wild Honey Pie.” The country twang of the guitar on “Little Record Girl” reminds me of the unexpected country appearance of “Act Naturally” on The Beatles’ Help! On the whole, Bahamas is Afie reminds me of The White Album in the sense that you don’t know which way the wind will blow from one song to the next.

I hear a few parallels to other artists as well. The vocal harmonies and crescendos of “All Time Favourite” remind me of Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues.” And something about “Like a Wind” reminds me of Elliott Smith’s “Easy Way Out.”

The comparisons are in no way meant to imply that Bahamas is Afie sounds like The Beatles or Fleet Foxes or Elliott Smith. That’s just me reading my musical influences into the album. It sounds distinctly like Bahamas: completely refreshing. This makes album number three. I’m already looking forward to the fourth, but there’s plenty of time for that. In the meantime, I’ll be giving this one many more listens.

AND! My best friend and I will have the pleasure of hearing Bahamas live at the St. Catharines show on January 8 at Brock University’s Centre for the Arts Sean O’Sullivan Theatre. Can. Not. Wait.

On that note, here are four live versions of songs from the album, beginning with the first track. It’s called “Waves” and it’s fantastic. The perfect song to open the album. And the first lyric we hear: “And I held the breath inside my lungs for days.” What a line to open with!

Track 1: “Waves”

And I held the breath inside my lungs for days

And I saw myself as one of many waves

And when I knew that I’d become the ocean’s slave

I just stayed

-Afie Jurvanen

Favourite musical moments: The way that the subtle crescendo leading up to the chorus sounds like a crashing wave. That the full beat of the chorus happens only at the chorus, leaving you wanting more. And, on the studio version, the sound of the bass drum. It’s incredible.

Track 4: “All the Time”

I got all the time in the world

Don’t you want some of that?

-Afie Jurvanen

Favourite musical moments: The slow groove, which sounds as if he really does have all the time in the world. And the guitar solo.

It’s always interesting to hear how a band adapts songs to the stage. Certain production embellishments may not be doable live with a small group of musicians and a live performance can sound a bit sparse in comparison to the fuller studio version. But Afie Jurvanen and the musicians he performs with maintain the energy, dynamics and rhythmic charm of the recording live on stage. I love the rhythmic play between him and the other guitarist in this performance on Conan:

http://teamcoco.com/video/bahamas-12-11-14

Track 8: “Like a Wind”

Moved me like a wind

And shook me when you blew in

But all winds someday change

Before they blow in cold and strange

-Afie Jurvanen

Favourite musical moments: The way the rumbling of the rolling drums and the subsequent stops sound like a temperamental wind and the quiet moments that follow.

Track 11: “I Had It All”

I had it all, and my breath held tight

She heard a call, kept her up most nights

And worst of all

Wondering what about us was ever right

-Afie Jurvanen

Favourite musical moments: The vocal/guitar unison runs and the unexpected chord change of the “turning on a dime” line.