In a touching recent promotional video, Bahamas (aka Afie Jurvanen) drives around his hometown of Toronto with his best friend and plays him a copy of his newest album, Bahamas Is Afie, for the first time. Eventually, the two settle at a booth in a restaurant and discuss the fact that sometimes it’s easier to write music from a place of discomfort than a place of comfort. “I think it’s harder to be honest about [writing] if you’re happy,” Jurvanen says. “When it’s too earnest, when it’s too open, it kinda scares people off.”
Bahamas Is Afie, out this week on Brushfire Records, finds Jurvanen tackling that challenge head-on. It’s his third album released under the Bahamas pseudonym, but the album title points toward the eradication of the distance that previously existed between Bahamas and the man behind the Bahamas mask. Bahamas Is Afie is, for the most part, just as direct as its title, a tender record that has little to hide. It is the sound of a songwriter getting comfortable in his own skin. However, Bahamas Is Afie manages to avoid the trappings of jarring over-earnestness by also displaying an acute awareness of what does and does not qualify as self-indulgence.
From a musical standpoint, the album is the picture of restraint. Jurvanen is clearly an extremely gifted guitarist, but all of this album’s leads are completely understated. All The Time is arguably the album’s funkiest track, but Jurvanen resists the urge to let loose. Instead, the guitar solo consists of more space than notes. The slide guitar solo on Nothing To Me Now is similarly tasteful, and the gorgeous song ends up sounding like a delicate outtake from George Harrison’s classic, All Things Must Pass.
It also might not be a coincidence that the album’s hookiest, up-tempo tracks don’t extend over three-minutes in length. The album’s only true moment of potential cheesiness is Little Record Girl which, because of its modest length, comes off as charming rather than hokey. Killer lead single Stronger Than That similarly refuses to overstay its welcome. Its form (two verses, two choruses and an outro, no bridge, no nonsense) is reminiscent of some of the best ‘60s soul songs, concrete proof that sometimes the shortest songs have the most replay value.
All this talk of restraint is not to say that Bahamas Is Alfie doesn’t pack its fair share of emotional impact. Many of the album’s quieter moments are dominated by the subtle tug of old love on new heartstrings. The wistful Can’t Take You With Me is a frank portrait of lovers who had no choice but to part, and it gives way to a beautifully dense forest of carefully arranged strings before ending with a final image of what might have been: “I dreamt we had a boy and named him Owen.” The next track, Bitter Memories, explores a similar tension: “Though the memory of us is sweeter than we really were/I wouldn’t trade all those bitter memories for her.” Later in the album, I Had It All finds the ex-lover “wondering what about us was ever right.” The songs, taken as a whole, evoke something bittersweet more readily than they evoke undistilled pain. Afie is careful to be honest with himself and the listener, and his weary perspective on the relationship is that of somebody who has moved on, not that of somebody who can’t.
Bahamas Is Afie is an album that draws very specific parameters for itself and makes a point of staying well inside them. Bahamas never over-plays or over-shares, hence the resulting album is one that rewards repeated listens.