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.

Best albums of 2018: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Friday, November 23rd everyone! Black Friday, to boot. And happy belated Thanksgiving to our American friends!

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The best of the year lists are going to start pouring in from all over. It was actually around this time last year that I kicked off my Best Albums series with an end of the year list for 2017. I then travelled back in time through the decades, with stops at 2007, 1997, and finally, 1987 (you can find all of these completed lists here). It was a fun exercise and I’ll endeavour to do the same over the next year, starting with this 2018 list.

The drill is this. You’ll get albums ten through six, a sort of honourable mentions collection, today, and then, I’ll run through my top five albums of the year over the next five Fridays. If all goes well, the number one album will be revealed on the final Friday of the year.

For 2018, you’ll likely find that my list won’t resemble many of the lists from the real music sites. In fact, if you’re hoping for spoilers in the photo at the top of this post, you’ll be disappointed. None of those albums will appear in this series. As I get older, I find my tastes don’t line up as often with what is hip and new. I did check out a few of the buzz bands and some of them were quite good (hello, Shame and Starcrawler), just not top ten good in my opinion. And well, the ten albums that will make up this list may not be everyone else’s best. But they’re mine.

As always, I welcome hearing your own favourites and thoughts on my choices in the comments section of each post.

Let’s get started…

#10 David Byrne “American utopia”

To be honest, the only reason this album made this list at all is because I got to see the former Talking Heads frontman this fall at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. I had only given “American utopia” a cursory glance prior to the festival and wasn’t even sure I would stay for his whole set because of a scheduling conflict with another artist but I was glad, in the end, that I did. His was probably one of my favourite sets in recent years and I’ve been listening to this album regularly ever since, it growing in my esteem with each play. Yes, it’s varied in sound but not in theme. For his first solo album in fourteen years, Byrne is as fresh and quirky and intelligent as he ever has been.

Gateway tune: Everybody’s coming to my house

#9 James “Living in extraordinary times”

As some of you may undoubtedly already know, I’ve been a pretty big James fan for a couple of decades now but the appearance of their fifteenth (!!!) studio album here has nothing to do with loyalty. In fact, I wasn’t much of a fan of their last album, 2016’s “Girl at the end of the world”, as a whole, disagreeing with a bunch of people who made it the band’s highest charting album to date. “Living in extraordinary times” is at times as big as the best of James’s hit singles but it also has its quiet moments. At its core, though, it’s an album that has Tim Booth and band trying to find a forward in these crazy times, with more than a few nods and kicks at the current US president.

Gateway tune: Coming home (pt. 2)

#8 The Limiñanas “Shadow people”

Okay. So I had never heard of this band before this year. I don’t even remember how I originally came across their sixth studio album, “Shadow people”, but i know it hooked me from the beginning. It took some doing to figure out what they were about, including reading a Wikipedia entry written in French. My French is improving but far from perfect. Still, I was able to ascertain that they are a duo, Lionel and Marie, indeed from France, that were performing in other groups for many years, before forming The Liminanas in 2009. This latest album checked a lot of my boxes with its droning and driving psychedelia and then mixing it with laid back and cool Serge Gainsbourg sounds. That it includes contributions by Anton Newcombe and Peter Hook is just topping on the cake. I can’t wait to dig into their earlier work.

Gateway tune: Istanbul is sleepy

#7 The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”

For a band that hasn’t worked together in over a decade and an album whose players reside in three different states, The Essex Green and their fourth studio album, “Hardly electronic”, sound pretty slick indeed. I got into this group after seeing them open for Camera Obscura in 2007 and bought their album “Cannibal sea” based on their performance. I have now been salivating while listening to that album and waiting over eleven years for new material. Now that’s in my hands and spinning on my turntable, I am not disappointed in the least. They picked up the 60s and 70s inspired indie pop right where they left it and they quite possibly might have improved on their sound in the intervening years. Hopefully, it’s not another decade before we get album number five.

Gateway tune: The 710

#6 Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”

Who is this Colter Wall? He definitely does not sound of this time and place, singing somber and slow-burning numbers about the plight of the plainsmen in the 1800s and the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. Amazing, then, that this kid is but 23 and hails from Saskatchewan, Canada. It was my brother Mike that alerted me to him when he saw his name on the lineup for Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. His was definitely one of the highlight sets of the festival for me. Not only are his songs well written and of a different sensibility in today’s pop world but Wall has a voice that has been compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, though I for one would say it is even more profound than that. This is his sophomore album and builds upon the fantastic work laid out on last year’s fine debut. I think we’ll be hearing lots from him in the coming years.

Gateway tune: Saskatchewan in 1881

Check back next Friday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Vinyl love: Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”

(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: Spiritualized
Album Title: And nothing hurt
Year released: 2018
Details: standard black, embossed morse code on cover

The skinny: Many of you know by now that I’m a pretty big Spiritualized fan, my favourite of their albums still being 1997’s “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space“. So I was pretty eager to get to listen to this latest, the eighth for the outfit, ever since I heard this album was a sort of return to 1997 form. I’m currently on the third spin through and I’m just letting it wash over me. It definitely sounds better on my turntable than on my iPod and it’s definitely Spiritualized. Perhaps I’ll have a more concrete opinion after a few more spins…

Standout track: “I’m your man”