Bahamas – Barchords [Album Review]

by oz on April 11, 2012

I fell in love with Bahamas back in 2011. The band was really just Canadian singer/songwriter, Afie Jurvanen, so I suppose I just admitted falling in love with a man in 2011. It was a confusing year for me.

Bahamas released Barchords in the US back in February via Brushfire Records – Jack Johnson’s label. I’ll admit upfront that the music snob in me assumed that any music released by Brushfire must first pass the “mainstream commercial appeal” sniff test and require that artists perform in board shorts and barefoot. Ukuleles are preferred, but not a prerequisite. Bahamas meets these requirements in part (his sound is very accessible to the FM radio crowd), but I learned something watching Afie at noon on Wednesday at SXSW. The dude can write songs. He has mastered the electric guitar. And the dude can sing. He also makes the crowd do really weird things to each other (more on that in a minute). But the bottom line is that Bahamas has the core ingredients to break big one day.

Let’s dig into Barchords and that SXSW showcase for a bit, shall we? The album starts off with “Lost In The Light.” It’s a breezy track that’ll have you swaying side-to-side in your ergonomically correct cubicle chair. Afie’s smooth Martin Sexton-esque vocals are accented by hypnotic guitar riffs that magically transport you to a vacation in your mind. Then the backup singers jump in and punctuate the song with the heavenly “oohs” and “aahs.”

“Lost In The Light” was played early in his set list at SXSW – a set that I dragged Woody to because he was not a Bahamas believer. Those hypnotic guitar riffs quickly put him in a trance and as Afie scanned through the crowd he fixed his stare on Woody. Woody leaned to me and whispered  “I think he’s singing into my soul right now.” I glanced around the rest of the crowd and saw guys trying hard not to dance. Packs of late twenty-something girls were bouncing around in dance circles. Directly in front of me, some young couple violated every public display of affection law as they slow danced (even to fast songs), caressed one another’s cheeks with the backside of their hands, stared at each other with shit-eating grins – I’m pretty sure they had their hands in each other’s back pockets. And who can blame them? Grab-assing can get tiresome and those pockets are like  hand hammocks. But what had me smiling is that their love fest was set to a back drop of break-up song lyrics:

Even counting sheep
Don’t help me sleep
I just toss and turn
Right there beside you
So if someone can see me now
Let them see you
Let them see you
See you through
All the hard things we’ve all got to do
Because this life is long
So you wouldn’t be wrong
Being free leaving me on my own.

So Woody, a non-believer, was converted into a Bahamas fan and we both reaffirmed our beliefs in the power of love. In all seriousness, it’s rare at SXSW to see an artist that plays the guitar and sings so well. It’s also rare to find back-up singers of this caliber touring with an upstart. As you work through the album, you’ll find the first single, “Caught Me Thinking,” an upbeat song that should be added to every backyard BBQ playlist. You’ll also find stripped down cozy ballads like “Montreal” and “Overjoyed” that lull you into a dream state and M. Ward-inspired acoustic tracks like “Any Other Way” and “Time and Time Again.”

Nearing the end of the album, you’ll also find a gem (possibly the album’s best track) in “Your Sweet Touch.” The guitar solos shine here, so much in fact, that it points out a weakness in the album. Barchords could possibly benefit from more of this throughout the album. It certainly appeals to the Black Keys fan in me. But maybe it just serves as a teaser for what’s in store on future releases from Bahamas. Either way, I’ll be listening.

You can listen too, by playing around with the embedded stuff below including an acoustic version of “Lost In The Light.”