Published Mar 27, 2020Since Nap Eyes awakened ten years ago, their lyrics have welcomed listeners into the inner monologues of singer/guitarist Nigel Chapman. Before bringing them to his bandmates, Chapman's writing process involves extended sessions of freeform improvisation with his voice and guitar. These raw materials are then sculpted into gorgeously understated songs, emblazoning his plainspoken philosophical musings with dazzling guitar flourishes and melodies that linger in your mind. On their fourth album, Snapshot of a Beginner, that formula has been perfected.
The Halifax quartet's 2015 debut, Whine of the Mystic, was notably recorded live with no overdubs. Snapshot of a Beginner was pieced together in a far more meticulous process during recording sessions at the National's Long Pond Studio. Bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton (who previously helmed beloved Mint Records band Monomyth) hold down the perfectly placed rhythm section, while guitarist Brad Loughead (who splits his time as a member of Homeshake) adds sparkling leads and expressionistic solos that recall Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan.
Searching for spiritual harmony is a subject that has interested Chapman since at least as far back as "No Fear of Hellfire," the closing song from Whine of the Mystic that slowly unfolds in heartbreaking beauty over seven-and-a-half minutes. The band's latest album was introduced with "Mark Zuckerberg," a jangly earworm named for the notorious Facebook founder, with profound concepts found in simple observations like a group of kids in a park smoking an apple bong. While musician Caleb Glasser, of cult Halifax band Fake Buildings, wrote its lyrics, "Mark Zuckerberg" ends with a repeated line that could be Nap Eyes' mantra: "Transcendence is all around us."
Opener "So Tired" is an instant classic Nap Eyes tune with a sentiment that's seemingly at odds with the process in which it was created. As Chapman addresses himself in second person, he vents on the subject of recreating a song in its polished final form instead of a spontaneous free flow. Ironically, the band has rarely sounded this refined. "Primordial Soup" adds to their instrumental palette with shimmering synths, while "If You Were In Prison" is the greatest showcase for Loughead's guitar shredding, as he unleashes enveloping shoegaze bends and scorched riffs in the tradition of Dinosaur Jr.
For longtime fans, the album's most satisfying moment arrives with "Dark Link," a song dating back to Chapman's pre-Nap Eyes solo project the Mighty Northumberland. Using a character from the Legend of Zelda series as a springboard, he delivers some of his most stirring words of motivation: "Life never ends / There's no chance of giving up / There's only getting up again." If you've been following the quartet since day one, Snapshot of a Beginner feels like both a victory lap and another bold step forward in the race. (Royal Mountain Records)