Best albums of 2018: #3 Nap Eyes “I’m bad now”

Nap Eyes are a Canadian indie rock quartet led by Nigel Chapman. All four members originally hail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but only Chapman remains there. The other three, Brad Loughead, Josh Salter, and Seamus Dalton, have all relocated to Montreal, which one might think would cause problems with recording new material. However, I’m learning that it’s actually not an uncommon situation these days with technology being what it is: bands don’t always have to be in the same room to record a great and cohesive album together.

But I digress.

I came across Nap Eyes a couple of years ago with their sophomore album, “Thought rock fish scale”, and happily, got to see them perform live for free at the Ottawa Dragonboat festival the same year. Their sound appealed to me right away. It’s lazy-sounding slacker rock but nowhere near the same vibe as Kurt Vile or fellow Canadian, Mac DeMarco, neither of which particularly appeal to me in the same sense. No. These guys remind me of an underrated 90s dream pop band called Luna but also very much of The Velvet Underground, particularly if “Sunday morning” had been the template from which all their catalogue was cut. It’s mellow but it rocks, and absolutely, Nigel Chapman’s conversational singing tone evokes those of Lou Reed and Dean Wareham. His lyrics are weird, seemingly stream of consciousness monologues, rife with both the mystical and the mundane, the loose frays and discomfiture not at all hinting at the career of his other life as biochemist. Yeah, they’re an interesting group.

“I’m bad now” is the group’s third long player and is seen in some circles as the final part in an unofficial trilogy. On this outing, they pick things up a bit. At moments, it’s quite upbeat in pace but I still wouldn’t call these songs rockers in the traditional sense. Sometimes they plod along and sometimes they burn slowly, hinting at a build that never quite explodes, and sometimes they just hum and tear, thrilling in the journey rather than the destination.

Like its two predecessors, “I’m bad now” works as a complete album, bucking the current trend towards singles. All eleven songs work just as well as standalone pieces as they do as part of the whole. So though it was a tough task, I have separated out three picks for you to sample. Enjoy.

“Follow me down”: This here’s a song about going for a walk and it carries on with a cheerful gait, the tap-tap on the drum rim, the bopping bass line, and the gentle strum on the guitar. It has the feel of old style folk music but with a wash of reverb underpinning it all. And Chapman is inviting us to join him on his early morning stroll, early to try to beat noise, physical and otherwise, that comes with all the people. But no matter, he’s got his earphones in: “Classical Indian ragga twenty minutes long. Then I listened to old American folk song. A little bit shorter, still a lot going on.” Keep up with him, please, he’s a got a good pace this morning.

“Dull me line”: “Dull me line, running abandoned race tracks in my mind. Dull me heart, heavy with bored and lazy disappointment art.” The chorus line, which in a bigger, stadium friendly band might incite a raucous sing-along, was Chapman both being frustrated with writer’s block and being easily distracted. The guitars are jangling and shimmering and often give way to messy, Velvet Underground-like mini-jams throughout the song. It’s a great tune to bop along to. Yeah, just close your eyes and ride the waves. Yeah, man.

“Roses”: Here’s an example of Nap Eyes in an upbeat, uptempo moment. It’s got a driving beat and roaring guitars and feels like it’s going to be much longer than its three plus minutes. It just has that feel, like you’re in for the long haul and you don’t mind at all, the rhythm is nice but Chapman doesn’t give it to you. Instead, he gives you more of his honest and insecure and curious thoughts in the form of lyrics. “Somebody sent you roses. Now what do you do with them? You’ve got no reason to trim them. No nice place to throw them. Because it doesn’t seem right to throw them away. Yet you can’t very well send them back the other way.” Hilarious and poignant and so much why I love this band.

Check back next Friday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”
5. Middle Kids “Lost friends”
4. Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Vinyl love: Teenage Fanclub “Howdy!”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Teenage Fanclub
Album Title: Howdy!
Year released: 2000
Year reissued: 2018
Details: Black vinyl, gatefold, 180 gram, reissue, remastered at Abbey Road Studios, included bonus 7″ single “Thaw me” b/w “One thousand lights”

The skinny: So here’s the final of the five reissues the Fannies released late this past summer. “Howdy!”, their sixth (or seventh, depending on how you count them) album, was their first since the debut not to be released on Creation and the first since the debut that I didn’t immediately rush out and purchase on CD. In fact, this repress is the first physical copy of the album I’ve ever listened to and for some reason, it sounds quite different than the digital version I have. Perhaps it’s the remastering? Nonetheless, another great and underrated offering by the band that followed very much in the same vein as “Songs from Northern Britain” and was the last proper album the band would release for five years.

Standout track: “I need direction”

Best tunes of 1991: #10 Rheostatics “Record body count”

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At the tail end of 1999, I was just over a year into my first full time, post-university job. As my wife Victoria will tell you, I often just happen into things and my work at the time was in tool rentals, a full time gig that came out of a part time job I found while my university professors were on strike near the end of my program. I went through a management training program and I was at my second store after the training, just before getting my own store the following spring. The Merton Street location was one of Stephenson’s Rent-all’s busiest stores at that time, servicing both uptown and downtown, north of Bloor and south of Eglinton. I often worked with a guy, perhaps a few years older than myself, named Chris and we shared similar tastes in music. We often talked about who we were listening to at the time and discovered new music through each other. (It was he who originally put me on to The Waterboys.) We also ensured that the radio in the store was always set to the Alternative station EDGE 102.1 while we were working, overruling with majority votes the other employees that wanted the dance or hard rock stations.

In December of that last year of the 1990s, EDGE put together its second list of the best 1002 songs ever and broadcast it over the course of a few days. I was of two minds about it at the time. I found it a shame that they were for all purposes erasing an amazing list that they had broadcast 8 years earlier in 1991 and replacing it with one made up mostly of 90s tunes, the original number one by The Smiths became second fiddle to Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”. On the other hand, it was the best few days in radio I had heard years and haven’t heard since.

Rheostatics’ 1991 single “Record body count” hit the chart early on at the 960 spot and I distinctly remember Chris getting all excited. He was all over himself explaining how he went to the same high school as members of the band in Etobicoke, Ontario and how the song is about their experiences while attending the school, whose name I no longer remember.

For those outside of Canada and who might have never heard of Rheostatics, they were a four-piece that formed in 1978 when its member were all still teenagers, and yes, in Etobicoke, a community now part of the amalgamated Toronto. They developed a cult following through the 1980s and into the 1990s and they have long since become an iconic Canadian band, despite never following the traditional rock band route, their only ever top 40 hit being “Claire” in 1995. They took their place alongside The Tragically Hip, 54.40, and Sloan, having played the game their own way, mostly on the back of their live shows.

“Record body count” is quite possibly my favourite by the band. It is very short at less than two minutes and could almost be considered a pop song when compared with the rest of their body of work but if you listen to it, you know that’s far from true. It’s weird sounding, definitely unconventional, and with a jarring rhythm and bass line, reminding me a little of Primus. The lyrics are serious but not, seemingly about a young person’s first experiences with death, suicide to be specific. It was easy to identify with it, though, when I first heard it as a teenager and still feels relevant and true today.

Wow. That’s a lot of words for such a short song. Let me just close with this:

“There’s a record body count this year.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.