Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: Universal Republic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
Ahit at this year's SXSW, former Feist guitarist Afie Jurvanen's tropical pop arrives as lazily and beautifully as crashing waves. Somewhere between Jack Johnson and early Lou Reed, Jurvenen crafts stripped-down, harmony-brushed songs with gorgeous hooks and without a wasted note. The twist is in the lyrics, which chronicle the death of a relationship.
Few musicians look as comfortable playing a guitar as Afie Jurvanen, aka Bahamas. Live, the Barrie-born soul-folk musician often breaks into longish instrumental passages, his fingers flying up and down the fretboard, earning him applause and wolf whistles. On record, though, he's careful not to indulge in flash of any kind, using his soulful picking solely to serve the song.
Warm, inviting, and just so slightly sleepy, Afie Jurvanen continues to keep things simple on his second Bahamas album, Barchords. With its spacious, roomy sound and laid-back vibe, the album feels as if the guitarist is beginning to settle into a good groove as a songwriter, sounding more relaxed and self-assured on his sophomore effort as he allows the empty spaces of "Overjoyed" and the gentle repetition of "Lost in the Light" to stand on their own without over-thinking them too much. This sense of patience and confidence gives Barchords a more organic, feeling as if it's the plant that grew from the seed planted on Pink Strat.
Toronto-based Afie Jurvanen, the singing, songwriting instrumentalist behind Bahamas, likes his folksy melodies strong but subtly executed, muted by Wilco-like flange and bolstered by his resonating vocals and gently spare-yet-complex guitar passages. At least that was the case on 2009’s debut full-length Pink Strat. The second Bahamas album, Barchords, has a similar loping feel—the wifty balladry of “Montreal,” the ghostly lilting ooze of “Lost in the Light”—and similar, quietly detailed guitar stylings to that first Bahamas recording.
Afie Jurvanen’s work as Bahamas fits in well with Brushfire Records’ roster. For one, some dude named Jack Johnson is at the helm. Secondly, Bahamas’ sophomore LP, Barchords, answers to the label’s sunny, west coast, guitar-centric leanings. Thus, it’s hard to believe Jurvanen hails from the Great White North, for Barchords bottles up the California lo-fi, acoustic aesthetic so well that the album practically situates the listener on a windswept Pacific beach as the sun sets.
If you expect a guy called Bahamas to make laid-back, tropical music, you’d be half-right. On Barchords, Bahamas (or Afie Jurvanen, as his mamma calls him) crafts a collection of light, sometimes even breezy tracks infused with blues (“Lost in the Light”), pop (“Your Sweet Touch”) and country (“Any Other Way”). Oddly, one of the most notable things about Barchords is how much silence it contains.
One of the most refreshingly direct and enjoyable albums of the year so far. James Skinner 2012 “I’m putting this album out at a time when there’s so much competition to be heard,” notes Afie Jurvanen in the press materials surrounding Barchords, his second album as Bahamas, before going on to consider the difficulty of forging and maintaining connections in the digital age. Whether that be on a personal scale or regarding the countless new acts it is now easier to gain access to than ever before, he makes a good point; it is intimidating, and is something he chooses to counter by simply putting himself out there.
Afie "Bahamas" Jurvanen is acclaimed in his native Canada but won't be known to UK audiences unless you've been paying special attention to Feist's backing band, with whom he played guitar and piano. Now's the time to get properly acquainted because his British debut is a gem: a warm, sun-dappled record with an appealing snag of heartache. Much of languid opener "Lost in the Light" feels like a post-break-up plea delivered from a hammock, while "Overjoyed" plots a leisurely course through self-reproach to redemption.
Afie Jurvanen (aka Bahamas) revels in laconic and languid bittersweet, part tongue-in-cheek, part dead-serious desperation. The charm lies in not knowing exactly from which perspective he's driving, which made the Toronto songwriter's debut, Pink Strat, one of last year's undervalued gems. Barchords wrangles a similar ambivalence, with slightly more ambition in arrangement while still remaining understated.
Since 2005, Afie Jurvanen has been popping up on albums by his fellow Canadians. That’s him playing guitar with the Stills and Jason Collett, and more recently he manned the piano and sang back-up on Feist’s Metals and Kathleen Edwards’ Voyageur. Like most sidemen, he has dreams of graduating to frontman. Unlike most sidemen, however, he actually has the singing and songwriting chops—not to mention the personality and presence—to make that happen.