Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: BAHAMAS IS AFIE

One origin story for Afie Jurvanen's use of the nom de pop Bahamas has to do with the closing cover of Wreckless Eric's "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World" on his debut album, Pink Strat. In the song, a mother promises her son that the perfect girl's out there for him somewhere. "Maybe she's in the Bahamas / where the Caribbean sea is blue / weeping in a tropical moonlight night / 'cause no one's told her 'bout you."

Aware that his name would cause endless pronunciation problems, Jurvanen--who has gigged with Feist and just about everybody involved in Toronto music since the mid-noughts--decided to adopt a moniker for his first solo volley. "Bahamas" was already on a list of options, and the deal was sealed by the late inclusion of the Wreckless Eric cover. But apart from the anecdotal reasoning, there's a relaxed, light day-drunk feeling to that album that suits Jurvanen's adopted name perfectly. The guitar sound is warm and casual, Jurvanen's vocal delivery relaxed and genial. On the sophomore Barchords, and now with Bahamas Is Afie, Jurvanen has maintained that resort mood. At its best--which is often--a Bahamas song sounds like a light cotton shirt luffing in an ocean breeze feels.


But there's another element of "Whole Wide World" that veins through Jurvanen's songwriting: the promise and the expectation of a kind of perfection in one's life that makes for a consistent, compelling source of tension when the real thing doesn't live up to the fantasy. Tropical paradises don't always look in real life like they do the pamphlets and postcards. The real strength of Jurvanen's writing--strong and getting stronger--is how he expresses the conflicts inherent in idealization, and that he doesn't simply settle on the idea that love isn't always as lovely as the dream of it is, instead going the extra mile of romanticizing love's travails.

"Though there were men before me," Jurvanen sings on Pink Strat's "Hockey Teeth," "That held you in there arms / with a love so hot and getting hotter / they're setting off fire alarms. / Though there were girls before you / I don't remember their names / ain't it a beautiful thing to watch a love / or a season change." That same qualifying "though" finds it's way into Bahamas Is Afie's "Bitter Memories:" "Though the memory of us was sweeter than we really were / wouldn't trade all those bitter memories for her."

It took someone pointing out to me that "Whole Wide World" was a cover. It slotted in perfectly with the rest of the songs of Bahamas first album. Indeed, there's a pop prowess to Jurvanen's work that might get you wondering whether or not you've heard that song before. But it's not a hackneyed familiarity. There's a traveled ease and a polish to most Bahamas songs that make them seem like they've been around forever. It'll probably take you until the second chorus of tracks like "Stronger Than That," "All The Time," and "Little Record Girl" to have you singing along as though you grew up with this stuff on the radio all the time.

In both his guitar work and songwriting, Jurvanen taps the best of late-50s and early-60s rock and soul, celebrating the power of longing and losing. Because aren't some of our best vacation stories the ones where things didn't go quite as planned?

- Andrew 


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