February 14, 2012

North of Northwest: Bahamas – Barchords





Valentine’s Day is kind of a schizophrenic holiday.

One one hand, you have all the mush. Teddy bears, vases of pink flowers, cheap candy in expensive boxes, love songs upon love songs, and heart-themed lingerie. The other side is the dark side: the sad sacks and loneliness, the Hallmark-induced bitterness and binge drinking and the occasional creepy revenge fantasy movie.

On his sophomore album Barchords, released just in time for Valentine’s, Bahamas (aka Afie Jurvanen) somehow manages to embody both sides of the holiday’s spirit. Barchords is a breakup album in theme and origin, carefully detailing the ombre assortment of post-parting emotions: guilt, regret, self-doubt, accusation. But with his debut, Pink Strat, Jurvanen pulled the nifty trick of making interpersonal ambivalence and relationship decay sound positively sexy, and on Barchords he makes it two for two.

The problem and the beauty is in Jurvanen’s voice. We’re used to hearing angst come from alien falsettos and angry growls, but Jurvanen coats everything in a smooth layer of sun-brightened honey, giving a homey sheen to every melody and little phrase. It’s a supremely comfortable voice, casually upbeat despite the anguished content of the lyrics. Jurvanen is a sad bastard’s Willie Nelson.

Opening track “Lost In The Light” exemplifies the album’s internal conundrum. “Life is long,” Jurvanen sings, “and so you wouldn’t be wrong” – then a chorus bursts in like a sunbeam – “being free, leaving me on my own.” The music says glory has come, while the lyrics tell of glory gone, gone, gone. Jurvanen’s use of backup singers makes for some beautifully exultant moments on Barchords, where occasionally a choir will come and take you out of your head and right off to church.

But Jurvanen is at his most interesting when he lifts his voice alone, not to the heavens but to a sexy, breathy range that takes us someplace much earthier. It’s not quite husky and not quite smooth, just an interesting tenor full of subtleties and positively laden with sex appeal. When, in “Your Sweet Touch,” he sings “Do I hold you back?” he might as well be asking, “Can I tie you down?”; the “Be My Witness” lament “I couldn’t even give you half of what you wanted if I wanted to” seems positively unbelievable, so seductive is his coo.

Even if it doesn’t all quite make sense, the question is whether you’ll care. Barchords is simply a pleasure to listen to, an escapist treat despite its heavy nature. Bahamas is for lovers, and also for haters, and possibly perfect if you’re both.

______ Barchords is out now. _______


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