Bahamas is the musical pseudonym of Toronto-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Afie Jurvanen, whose disarmingly forthright, captivatingly melodic songs have already earned him both a devoted fan base and a significant amount of critical acclaim on both sides of the border.
On the second Bahamas album Barchords, the determined, down-to-earth tunesmith delivers a beautifully bittersweet, infectiously uplifting set whose insightful lyrics, rousing melodies and raw, intimate performances exude an organic warmth and a timeless sense of universality. Jurvanen's compositions are effortlessly accessible yet defy easy categorization, rewarding continued attention with multiple musical and emotional layers that reveal themselves with repeat listens.
Despite his tropical nom de music, Afie (pronounce AY-fee) isn't from the Caribbean, but from Barrie, a working-class town in rural Ontario. In addition to his own work as Bahamas, Jurvanen won considerable attention during an extended stint working with Feist, with whom he recorded and toured extensively as guitarist/keyboardist.
While his associations with other artists demonstrated his collaborative skills, it's his own songs that mark Jurvanen as an exceptional talent.
After touring internationally with Feist for three years and returning home with a large backlog of new compositions, Afie recorded Bahamas' 2009 debut Pink Strat. That album's combination of sterling songwriting and sparse, lo-fi arrangements struck a chord with listeners and critics in Canada, where it received nominations for a prestigious Juno Award and Polaris Prize. That notoriety led to some high- profile touring and festival appearances.
Barchords—which Jurvanen recorded with his touring drummer Jason Tait and bassist Darcy Yates—offers 12 compelling new examples of Afie's distinctive songcraft, including such personally-charged numbers as the haunting album- opener "Lost in the Light," the loping, lilting ballad "Montreal," the rocking yet intimate "I Got You Babe” and the bittersweetly uplifting "OK, Alright, I'm Alive." Those tunes, like the rest of Barchords, demonstrate Jurvanen's uncanny knack for combining subtly indelible melodies with lyrics of uncommon insight and vulnerability. The songs' eloquent evocations of longing, loss and regret are supported by Afie's sublimely expressive vocals and subtly inventive guitar work.
"My tendency is to write from a very personal place, trying to be as honest as I can be within two or three minutes, so there ends up being a lot of 'I' and 'me' in the songs," Jurvanen notes. "There's forays into different styles and perspectives, but more often than not I tend to come back to basic storytelling, where there's a beginning and an ending. However, I do think the songwriting is a little more open- ended on this record, where the listener can fill in some of the details and chime in with their own imaginations."
Where his creative process is concerned, Jurvanen is intensely focused, yet confident enough in his muse to keep himself open to spontaneity and chance. "I would never describe myself as laid back—quite the opposite, in fact. But I do tend to operate at a slower pace than the rest of the world. That's by intention, choosing not to interact with the world in the same way as everyone else, because it's just a healthier state of mind for me to be in. I just can't bring myself to worry about the same things that everyone else worries about. And musically that translates into always seeking to get to the point as quick as possible, which translates into the production of the records being pretty simple.”
"The simplest thing is usually the thing that moves me the most, and I don't think that having a million options is necessarily a good thing," Afie continues. "I like working with constrictions and forcing myself to work within certain parameters, like only bringing one guitar to the show. I think that a good idea will shine through, whether you record it in a sophisticated studio or on a ghetto blaster. As much as I subscribe to a lot of older production techniques and recording ideas, my main concern is just getting the job done and coming up with something that I think people will be able to connect with.”
"I'm putting this record out there at a time when there's so much competition to be heard," he notes. "The week that my album comes out, there are a thousand other albums coming out, and a thousand more the week after that. I think it's harder now to find real connections with people, just because there's all this really negative, hurtful stuff out there that's bombarding us all the time. But you can't just be a hermit and go back to the land. If you want to have a career in music, then you actually have to get out there and get to work."
Although Jurvanen draws upon an array of sounds and instrumental textures in the studio, Bahamas' live lineup is a stripped-down duo consisting of himself, drummer Tait and vocalists Carleigh Aikins and Felicity Williams.
"Not having a bass player is a conscious decision," Afie explains. "It forces me to reinvent the songs when we play live. It's more exciting to me when I have to figure a way to present the songs within a simpler framework. Also, when we play live, it's not uncommon for me to change the arrangements and take the song wherever I want to. We can do that because I don't have to teach someone the chords or the structure. Jason is a good listener and a really responsive player, so I can just launch into something and he'll follow along, and it’s allowed me to stumble happily into some new musical landscapes."
That sense of adventure and discovery is present throughout Barchords. "I've been accused of being an old soul or whatever, but I'm not the only one," Jurvanen states. "You just do your best to create something that's pure and honest. I'm fallible, and I've made plenty of mistakes. But I'm always trying to find some way to connect and to be more honest—in life and in music. I have to think that there are a lot of people
out there who see things in a similar kind of way."