MEAWW's Basement Tapes: 'Snapshot of a Beginner' sees Nap Eyes imbibe Americana and punk in their sonic evolution
The Canadian indie-rock quartet have quietly started upping their game, thanks to some improved songwriting and even better production quality
The Canadian indie rock quartet Nap Eyes are known for their simplistic, lo-fi songs that sound like The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed decided to partake in a chilled out jam session with Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips.
The songs from their previous three records are so laidback and languid that they could almost be classified as horizontal. But with their recently-released album 'Snapshot of a Beginner', the band members Nigel Chapman (vocals), Brad Loughead (guitars), Josh Salter (bass), and Seamus Dalton (drums) decided that they were going to be a lot more ambitious as they moved into the 2020s.
Accordingly, they've ramped up their songwriting levels, both in terms of scale and scope. Their sound is more developed and fuller now, and a lot of credit for that must go to their talented producers James Elkington (Steve Gunn, Joan Shelley) and Jonathan Low (Big Red Machine, The National) who worked with Nap Eyes at The National's famous Long Pond Studio in New York.
Vocalist Nigel Chapman is the leading creative force and poetic philosopher in the band. For the introspective 'Snapshot of a Beginner', he indulged in several free-form writing sessions which typically lasted for about 20 minutes. The rest of the band members then used his inner monologues as the foundation for their song arrangements, building up cohesive layers and textures as they saw fit.
Even more interesting is the new sonic territory that Nap Eyes have explored on this album — besides the jangly guitars and glowing synths, they sound a lot more Americana now. There have always been elements of folk-rock in their sound, but now you can definitely hear a country twang vibe as well. There's even a driving, aggressive punk energy present, which is a welcome addition to Nap Eyes' normally placid and chilled-out palette.
The album opener 'So Tired' sees us enter frontman Nigel Chapman's headspace as he detachedly drawls — "Nigel you’re so scared / Of people trying to control your life / And criticize you... I’m so tired of trying to recreate / When I’ve been mired, stranded in the same fate / Though I feel inspired, then a moment later find I’ve been too late."
It's a lovely mix of existential venting, colored by some gleaming, reverb-y guitars — that existential theme also pops up quite a few times throughout this album. The track 'Primordial Soup' is instantly peppy and catchy, as it questions the human race's evolution and asks some hard questions of life - "I stood on the edge of the sea / And I wondered why all this was made around me / And I wondered why I should be / So free and happy / So sad and chained / Might feel frustrated but does it mean anything?"
Almost as a response to that, there’s a massive guitar explosion in the latter half of 'Primordial Soup' that feels like a sonic venting of that "meaningless frustration".
The floaty 'Mystery Calling' could well be the band's mission statement, if not one of Nap Eyes' trippiest and thought-provoking compositions — "If you don’t look at yourself, who’s going to be the one? / If you don’t try to figure it out, who’s gonna do it for you?" On the languid 'Even Though I Can’t Read Your Mind', Chapman mentally wrestles with a partner who isn't that interested in him as a person, and calls them out for their "misanthropic, defensive, self-righteous mind."
The stand-out lead single 'Mark Zuckerberg' is a Flaming-Lips-esque thought experiment about the Facebook founder — "Is Mark Zuckerberg a ghost?" It's a lovely, swirling journey through the confounding and beautiful haze of modern life, culminating in the song's epiphanic climax — “Transcendence is all around us."
The spacey 'Fool Thinking Ways' examines the idyllic day-dreaming we all fall into on a daily basis — "And that’s when it happened to me / That the change in my thinking set me free / And then I fell back to my fool thinking ways."
The straight-up rousing rocker 'If You Were In Prison' examines what it's like to be imprisoned, unable to do what you want — there's some epic, growling whammy bar action heard towards the end of the song. The jangly strummer 'Real Thoughts' sees Chapman at his most vulnerable, begging for some real, honest communication and there's also a tasty, psychedelic guitar solo section.
Another lovely number is the chiming 'Dark Link,' an interesting homage to the video game 'The Legend of Zelda', a character study of Dark Link’s selfish pride and how he pushed his loved ones away.
On 'When I Struck Out On My Own', Chapman quenches some of his existential thirst when he realizes, "Planning for the future time / That’s something that must be done / That’s part of our evolutionary purpose / That’s a meaningful thing."
The indie-rock closer 'Though I Wish I Could' deconstructs song composition in mind-bending ways, before the self-loathing Chapman admits "I cannot go back and change to feel cool again / Though I wish I could."
All in all, this is an interesting collection of songs from Nap Eyes, with their lyrical content made significantly more appealing by the album's first-class production — it's a refreshing take on their previously sparse, lo-fi sound. 'Snapshot of a Beginner' is a great hi-fi starting point and melodic springboard, a promise of better things to come from this talented band.
'MEAWW's Basement Tapes' is a weekly column that shines a spotlight on undiscovered/underrated musical gems.