Free and Easy
Bahamas may not sound like the most appropriate name for a Canadian born and bred musician, but it suits Afie Jurvanen just fine. The self-taught guitarist just released his sophomore album Barchords, following up his successful 2009 debut Pink Strat. It’s every bit the laid-back, lackadaisical kind of record Jurvanen’s tropical moniker suggests.
Barchords is infused with a variety of influences, from ’60s surf rock to blues to pop. It’s a blending of warm Caribbean sounds and American folk, a little nostalgic at times, and always enjoyable. There are acoustic love songs “Montreal” and “Any Other Way,” sweet saccharine odes of slowly plucked guitar and Jurvanen’s gentle crooning that flit in, charming in their simplicity of expression, and quickly disappear. (Both tracks are brief, with “Any Other Way” barely stretching past a minute.)
The entire album is an experiment in minimalism, often stripped down to bare percussion and poignant guitar melodies. The silences between the notes only serves to emphasize Jurvanen’s craftsmanship, making each harmony more potent to the ear. “Lost in the Light” has warm, sliding guitar moseying along with Jurvanen’s vocals and the occasional piano melody, but it still retains that sense of spareness. The somber, meditative “Never Again” and “Snowplow” maintain the minimalist vibe, with a slightly bluesy strummed guitar.
Echoes of blues and surf rock reverberate through “Caught Me Thinking” and “Okay Alright I’m Alive,” songs drenched with heavy reverb, beachy guitar riffs, and a touch of falsetto background vocals that create an old-fashioned feel, reminiscent of the 1960s without seeming trite. There’s also “Time and Time Again,” an island-folk ballad where you could easily imagine Jurvanen strumming on the shores of some tropical locale beneath swaying palm trees. And while the album is dominated by this laid-back, easygoing sound, Bahamas can play pop—and rock an electric guitar—too. “Your Sweet Touch” has an excellently lengthy solo guitar jam that shows off a close attention to melody, full of energy.
Barchords delights and enchants with its combinations of musical influences and styles and Jurvanen’s feel-good, melodic sensibilities. It shows a great deal of latent talent, and it’s cool to see Jurvanen, who’s spent so much time playing as an accompanist to other musicians, strut his stuff alone. And strut—or, rather, stroll—he does.