(Photo Credit - Alex Blouin & Jodi Heartz)
Advance Review - Nap Eyes: Snapshot of a Beginner (March 27, 2020)
My Junior year of high school, my favorite English teacher developed a medical condition that caused her immense pain and fatigue, and required her to sit for long sullen periods to receive dialysis. That year, she went through a metamorphosis of sorts, clinging to her shining optimism, and decided to delve into Transcendentalism with our young eager minds. To spice up the lesson and her life a bit, our final project for the segment was to burn a CD entitled “Transcendentalism for a Poopy Day” for her to listen to while she received her treatment, and should include songs that harnessed the key elements of Transcendentalism: the importance of nature, self-reliance, non-conformity, free thought, and confidence. My playlist had everything from Blind Melon’s “No Rain” to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” on it. I desperately wish now, however, that I could go back in time and just give her Nap Eyes Snapshot of a Beginner.
Snapshot of a Beginner is the fourth studio album by Canadian indie rock band Nap Eyes, and the content is directly drawn from lessons learned as the band continuously returns to the beginning of a new project. Lead vocalist and song writer Nigel Chapman accredits a lot of the lessons to his practicing of tai chi, where one continuously returns to the start of the lesson having gained more knowledge of where one pose should end up leading, greater balance, and a greater retention for the pattern of the flow over all. The album flips back and forth between he positive and negative connotations of a repetitive lifestyle, touching on the aspects of boredom, wanderlust, knowing where you came from, and the need to never stop wondering why you’re here.
Sandwiching the album are two self-referential songs “So Tired” and “Though I Wish I Could.” Both songs are self-narrated, rather than having the feeling of an ambiguous narrator. Kicking off the album saying his own name, “So Tired” is a note-to-self on Chapman’s exhaustion of doing the same thing over and over, while still having to fear whether he will not succeed where he has succeeded before. I relate well to this feeling, having known the glimmer of inspiration only to find it gone the second I put pen to paper. The tone of the song builds with inspiration and expectation, a spicy guitar riff rings out before the song reverts back to an acoustic softer tone as Chapman revisits the chorus of “I’m so tired of trying to recreate,” which really drives home the concept of how exhausting the monotony of life can be. Wrapping up the album, “Though I Wish I Could” begins with a verse of absolute gibberish as Chapman describes a guitar chord he does not like to play. I say gibberish because, if you didn’t already know, I only listen to and have opinions about music, I don’t make it. Anyway, Chapman goes on to lament patterns he has fallen into and bad choices he may have made as well as the inability to return to those times truly knowing what he knows now, and though we might return to the same stages over and over, you can never really get an actual do-over.
Somewhere in the middle of the album are the shortest and longest songs, backed right up to each other. “If You Were In Prison” is 2:18 long and is about, you guessed it, how fun it would not be to go to prison. It is followed by “Real Thoughts,” a 7:45 song pleading with people to just say what they mean, what they actually think, instead of coding everything in a user friendly version for everyone to hear. A hypnotic guitar eerily chirps in the background (reminding me of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”) as Chapman’s lyrics ring with assurance “Even though they might sound crazy/ Though they might sound rude/ They might sound kind of hazy/ Might sound so crude.” I think the two songs in juxtaposition is interesting, considering the very clear and plain stance in the lyrics of the former which reads “What would that make you feel like/ If you couldn’t do the things that you/ Like to do anymore/ ’Cause you were in prison?/ ‘Cause no matter what you did/ You wouldn’t like it one bit/ —To be in prison.”
I would be remiss to forget the snappy little number probably stuck in my head for forever, “Mark Zuckerberg.” This song is the only song on the album not written by Chapman, but was instead written by Chapman’s childhood friend Caleb Glasser, aka Fake Buildings. It really speaks to my millennial nature to make a joke out of most serious things to make it through the day. Kind of worried that an Internet tycoon has been selling my personal information? Lets spread a rumor that he doesn’t have hands, might be a ghost, oh and I think I heard he really likes…. sand? The song speaks of these Internet rabbit-hole theory before coming up for air in the visual of two teens smoking from an apple a repeating “Transcendence is all around us,” like they are trying to manifest something. “Mark Zuckerberg” is accompanied by a music video depicting a ghost rock band and an undulating, twisting background that switches from virtual to the real world at whim. Haunting, but a must see.
One final song that struck a chord in me, “Mystery Calling” really felt like a wave crashing over me upon listening to it. Again, it recalls the central theme of repetition and monotony in the daily life. Should I keep working hard for something I fleshed out, or should I reach for the mystery of the unknown and see where it takes me? Would the risk match the reward? Because the song denotes the positive and negative aspects of throwing caution to the wind, it doesn’t leave me feeling better exactly, but relieved that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I also enjoy the soft, echoing guitar paired with the even softer piano, creating a swirling effect that wraps you up with your confusion and doesn’t release you until the very end.
“Snapshot of a Beginner” may sing of the dread of repetition, but Nap Eyes has really created a unique sound in their hi-fi melodies and off beat spoken lyrics that hasn’t lead them astray through four incredible albums. Their style of building the songs from the base up really lets each musician’s abilities shine. Previous Nap Eyes albums were recorded like this live in one room, where as “Snapshot of a Beginner” was pre-produced by James Elkington, and produced by Elkington and Jonathan Low at the legendary Long Pond Studio, built and broken in by The National on Aaron Dressner’s own upstate New York property. The pre-production really gave this album the punch it needed to stand amongst its successful predecessors. The album is to be released March 27, 2020 on Jagjaguwar records. Glad I got an early peak, can’t wait for the rest of the world to listen. Especially you Mrs. Schaber; if you’re reading this, I’d like to resubmit my project. This album is truly “Transcendentalism for a Poopy Day.”
Rating - 3/5