Afie Jurvanen’s work as Bahamas fits in well with Brushfire Records’ roster. For one, some dude named Jack Johnson is at the helm. Secondly, Bahamas’ sophomore LP, Barchords, answers to the label’s sunny, west coast, guitar-centric leanings. Thus, it’s hard to believe Jurvanen hails from the Great White North, for Barchords bottles up the California lo-fi, acoustic aesthetic so well that the album practically situates the listener on a windswept Pacific beach as the sun sets.
An astute student of the male crooner canon, Bahamas whips soul-infused vocals, bittersweet lyrics, and uplifting melodies into an airy, acoustic dream. Opener “Lost in the Light” requires no further convincing that a cool, easy-going acoustic folk record lies beneath. Its emotive prologue of chords gathers sweet backing harmonies, bolstered by stripped-down rhythm to build toward a gospel-like peak. This mellow reflection on a relationship’s ebb and flow fades into “Caught Me Thinking”, a flowing surf tune that’s a welcome distraction from late winter.
A former touring member of Feist’s band, Jurvanen’s guitar chops don’t escape the spotlight. Whether it’s his lackadaisical acoustic plucking (“Time and Time Again”, “Overjoyed”) or cascading electric wa-wa (“Never Again”, “Your Sweet Touch”), the strings anchor the lovelorn lyrics in a retro, tropical premise. Standout “I Got You Babe” is not a re-imagined cover of the Sonny & Cher radio kitsch, but is instead a traipsing look into love lost, the guitar driving a churning poppy groove.
The album’s minor flaw is that it tends to sound like M.Ward 2.0, especially on short ditties like “Any Other Way” and “Snowplow”. The structure, approach, and endearing qualities have been heard before, especially the croaking, twangy male vocals. Still, there could be worse styles to be sampling. What makes Bahamas worth a listen is the soulful pairing of glowing, slow-building melodies and sun-kissed songs. It’ll definitely help with the late winter thaw, but Barchords should also linger past the spring solstice, occupying summer beach-bound ears.
Essential Tracks: “Lost in the Light”, “Your Sweet Touch”, and “I Got You Babe”