Thought Rock Fish Scale
A1. “Mixer” 4.36
A2. “Stargazer” 4.13
A3. “Lion in Chains” 6.40
A4. “Don’t Be Right” 2.24
B1. “Click Clack” 4.29
B2. “Alaskan Shake” 5.11
B3. “Roll It” 3.05
B4. “Trust” 2.41
Recorded live to tape, with no overdubs, on the North Shore of Nova Scotia, Nap Eyes’ quietly contemplative sophomore record refines and elaborates their debut, offering an airier, more spacious second chapter, a bracing blast of bright oceanic sunshine after the moonlit alleys of Whine of the Mystic. But the briny, cold Atlantic roils beneath these exquisite, literate guitar pop songs, posing riddles about friendship, faith, mortality, and self-doubt.
There is a short poem by the mystically inclined minimalist poet Robert Lax, the entirety of which comprises this single sentence:
the angel came to him & said
I’m sorry, mac, but
we talked it over
& you’re going
to have to live
a thousand years
It’s delivered as an apologetic aside, a joke (“sorry, mac”), but this epigrammatic curse carries a weirdly devastating weight. It’s not immortality that this blunt angel promises—if you can accept the unfathomable premise, living forever might have its fringe benefits, I guess—but just a millennial attenuation of desire, of pain. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown and Kris Kristofferson, why me?
The spectral visitation that occurs in the Nap Eyes song “Alaskan Shake,” a centerpiece of the Halifax band’s gorgeous new album Thought Rock Fish Scale, invokes, oddly and unbidden within the song’s narrative context, a black swallow with a crutch, a familiar who heralds “the ghost of the early morning.” “Speaking like a bell”—an apt description of how songwriter and guitarist Nigel Chapman intones his alternately cryptic and concrete lyrics—this unnamed ghost incites little boys and girls to “stand up and be peaceful” and to memorialize a thousand years of foremothers. The song ends with a generationally unspooling refrain of “My old great, great, great, great, great, great / Grandmother mother mother mother.”
It’s one of several movingly ineffable moments on the album that gathers loved ones and legacies at a cautious if affectionate distance, folding them into carefully articulated but centerless koans. Like the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in “Click Clack,” these eight songs are deceptively simple and gentle, almost radical in their purity of intent and populist subject matter—they are, after all, minimalist rock and roll ruminations on family, friends, work, faith, feelings. But Chapman’s plainspoken poetry, divested largely of description and rhetoric, renders them enigmatic, oracular, allegorical. So in “Stargazer,” ennui and indecision are distilled to a base need “to be clean and try to control my body / ’Cause nobody else going to.” In “Trust,” what shrinks call “trust issues” catalyze somatic paranoia: “Somebody look at me / Do I have a glass eyelid? / Do I have a glass forehead? / Can you see through it?” And in the shivering, anthemic “Lion in Chains,” the eponymous beast hangs, heraldic and haunted by hometown nostalgia, above singer and audience alike—but only following a beautifully banal stanza about the hot water heater problems at the laboratory where Nigel works as a biochemist.
Nap Eyes recorded their second album in the crisp daylight of late May 2014, in the living room and screened porch of a seaside family home near Pictou, a small Nova Scotian town whose evocative name derives from the Mi’kmaq word for “explosion.” Like all of their recordings to date, the album is framed by a set of severe self-imposed strictures: a mere four days to capture as many songs as possible completely live, with no overdubs, to a temperamental old TEAC four-track ¼” tape recorder. The result is a document pristine in its intentional imperfections.
After the dark, drunken night of Whine of the Mystic (recorded nocturnally in Montreal), Thought Rock Fish Scale brings blinding sunlight and blue horizon to these elemental stories of water, fire, and spirit. Compared with its predecessor, this album is far less concerned with the effects of alcohol—excepting “Click Clack,” with its admission that “Sometimes, drinking, I feel so happy but then / I can’t remember why … Sometimes, drinking, I don’t know my best friend for my best friend”—and more concerned with negotiating the mornings after, all the hungover or otherwise creaky, tentative new mornings of a life assembled from discrete days.
Musically, a new delicacy and tautness manifest here as well, a patient willingness to wait; Josh Salter (bass), Seamus Dalton (drums), and Brad Loughead (lead guitar) exhibit consummate restraint. Sonic touchstones remain similar—The Go-Betweens (particularly Robert Forster’s melancholic bite), The Only Ones, Lou Reed, Nikki Sudden, Bedhead—but here the players circumnavigate the negative space of those artists’ styles, summoning them with fond absence, with silences. (Listen to how “Mixer” uses the space between ringing chords to deconstruct a coed party episode—the most archaic and trite of teen pop tropes—into an analytical out-of-body experience, charting a path from the mall to “my Jesus” to a local judge’s recriminations.)
Thought Rock Fish Scale deploys the language of anxiety and self-reflection as a sort of symbolic vernacular. (“Heavy with moral learning / you grumble and bite,” Nigel sings in “Don’t Be Right.”) Chapman’s songs ask us to consider the ways in which we stupefy and medicate ourselves into passivity and longevity; to consider how we seek to lose ourselves within ourselves; how we endeavor to reorient the mind, or if you will, the soul, to disappear into ease and forgetting. Indeed, Nap Eyes make soul music, in the sense that their music describes, from a position of uneasy humility, the often mundane maintenance of the fragile human soul. How long can we keep ourselves buoyed or crutched, even provisionally, like that sad swallow in “Alaskan Shake”? As Nigel asks in “Mixer,” “Then again what else is there / Another life, some other way?”
- RIYL The Only Ones/England’s Glory, The Modern Lovers, The Clean, The Verlaines, The Go-Betweens, Nikki Sudden, Bedhead, and all things Lou Reed
- Available on virgin vinyl as an LP, with heavy-duty chipboard jacket, full-color inner sleeve, and lyrics, as well as on gatefold matte CD and digital formats.
- Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon.
8.0. Chapman has one of those voices that feels immediately familiar, yet is bracingly distinct… one the most intriguingly idiosyncratic lyricists in Canadian indie rock this side of Dan Bejar. Even in its quietest moments, Thought Rock Fish Scale is an album brimming with passion and protest. It finds confidence in humility, power in relaxation. Its lethargy feels like an act of defiance against the hyper-speed pace of modern life. Its pledges of sobriety and good health constitute affronts to peer-pressured intoxication and food-blogged indulgence. And its purity of vision amounts to a declaration of war against a culture that encourages mass distraction. Let this record be the first step in your rehabilitation from information overload.
– Stuart Berman, Pitchfork
The year’s first classic indie rock album. For my money, Nap Eyes are one of the best rock bands in business today, handily spanning the space between Bob Dylan and The Microphones. Nigel Chapman’s songwriting grips like the best of them. A timeless release, already.
– Duncan Cooper, The FADER
An existentialist indie pop daydream. Wonderfully and beautifully frigid — frozen in time and place, despite its humid surroundings.
– Colin Joyce, SPIN
Chapman has been compared to Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman, among other singularly compelling singer-songwriters. If tracks like “Roll It,” “Mixer,” and the seven-minute epic “Lion in Chains” are any indication, this album is only going to cement Chapman’s status as one of the most fascinating songwriters we have today.
Nap Eyes are one of my favourite bands in Canada. Four cats from Halifax recording lazy, rangey rock’n’roll – “Roll It” is a rocker’s stoned jam but it’s also epistemology – a marauding dissertation on what we know and how we know it. Nigel Chapman sings his lines with a certain distance, Father Superior and his riddles, but the band is affectless, profane, casual as a bowl of cereal. I figure this is usually the way with gurus: well-spoken long-hairs and their roving, loyal, merry men.
– Sean Michaels, The Globe and Mail
It’s easy to imagine Lou Reed’s ghost giving Nap Eyes his gruffly benevolent blessing, impressed by their unvarnished diarizing in lean, art-pop songs that channel his spirit. But along with kitchen-sink detail, there’s real poignancy in the Canadians’ second set. Astutely played, instant charmers.
– Sharon O’Connell, Uncut
4/5 stars. It’s almost a relief to hear the stoical guitar-bass-drums simplicity of this quartet. Concise, understated alt rock with cryptic, literate lyrics for Go-Betweens/Bill Callahan fans.
You don’t wanna miss them: purveyors of beatific, sun-drenched US roadtrip tunes, they’re a laid-back, summery affair at first glance. Dig deeper though and there’s much to get lost in. Subtle and intricate, they’re an impressive outfit… Frontman Nigel Chapman [is] owner of one of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard in years. He’s a fucking great singer, and an impressive lyricist to boot.
– Matt Wilkinson, NME
4/5 stars. There is a down-at-heel yet often sublime feel from Nap Eyes’ second album. Of the album’s eight tracks, it’s almost impossible to single out one that doesn’t hit the singular mark between structured and untidy, but the likes of “Stargazer,” “Lion in Chains,” and “Trust” nonetheless manage to convey the vagaries of control without in any way spoiling the end result. Reckless? Wistful? A little bit skewed? All these and more.
– Tony Clayton-Lea, The Irish Times
Incredible album. Nap Eyes is a great band that will remind you of a lot of great things. Songwriter and guitarist Nigel Chapman, a biochemist by day, is the kind of preternaturally smart lyricist who inspires comparison to Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Van Morrison, and the many odd musicians who fall between. There’s a lot of good connections one could make listening to something so clearly labored over but also seemingly effortless. If you haven’t been listening to much rock music lately, Nap Eyes will make you remember why rock’s good in the first place.
– The FADER
To live with this record is to hear it unfurl a beauty and intelligence some might have feared extinct. Awash with delicate wit and poignancy, this is traditional rock music only in that these are well-read kids from an isolated location who have made the music they hear inside their heads, not off the internet.
– Sean Rabin, Sydney Morning Herald
8/10. One of the most enjoyable and insightful albums released this year so far. It sounds like Pavement, circa-1999, playing a stripped down Stax Records house band slow jam… like Lou Reed hanging out with Guided by Voices. As you get more and more inebriated it all starts to make sense, making it the best thing you’ve ever heard!
– Nick Roseblade, Drowned in Sound
The effect is something akin to the talking blues antics of Mark Kozelek‘s last few albums, but with a lot more self-control and no references to crab cakes or Ben Gibbard. So it goes for the rest of Thought Rock Fish Scale as well, with Chapman poring over his existential fears and failings as a human while he and the rest of the band rumble along quietly in the background invoking the spirits of Flying Nun Records and Sarah Records’ past.
– Robert Ham, Paste
34 minutes of soothing acoustic melodies that will transport you from the cold and rain of our bleak isles to the warmth to the warmth of a Nova Scotian log cabin in the space of a single listen.
– The ShortList (UK)
Some of the Velvet Underground’s best moments came with the volume turned way down, and that’s precisely where Nap Eyes picks up the story. Nap Eyes hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it’s easy to hear that rainy chill in its music. “Mixer”–from Thought Rock Fish Scale, out February 5 via Paradise of Bachelors–is all atmosphere. You’re looking over Chapman’s shoulder as the room comes into view.
– Art Levy, KUTX
Chapman’s questions are heart-wrenching in their simplicity. Get ready to get a little existential.
– Collin Robinson, Stereogum
Acclaim for Nap Eyes’ Whine of the Mystic:
Nap Eyes moves from psych-riffs to astrophysicists; from Rubaiyatic poetry to punctuated bass, in easy fluid motions. Chapman’s calm, steady voice can be as pained as Bob Dylan’s, and his lyrics can be just as profound.
– Adria Young, Noisey
Unkempt rock songs that are steeped in tradition yet impossible to pin down. Nigel Chapman sings with an observational deadpan that echoes back to the likes of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, and David Berman. This guy spends his days studying the infinite complexity of seemingly simplistic cells, and his songs function the same way. There are worlds inside [these] little three-chord lament[s].
– Chris DeVille, Stereogum
Whine of the Mystic is a necessarily dense title for a band like Nap Eyes, its multitudes containing additional multitudes. This is a drinker’s album, for the kind of drinker who does so alone, publicly, poring over popular 11th-century tomes.
– Ian Cohen, Pitchfork
These spindly, sophisto-naïve songs about friendship, uncertainty, belief, and heavy drinking suggest Lou Reed reared on The Clean and The Verlaines. But rather than a drawl or sneer, there’s vulnerability on Chapman’s lazily charming voice.
– Sharon O’Connell, Uncut
Nap Eyes’ Whine of the Mystic is a ragged splendour, one of the best things in ages. A band from Halifax with a sound like young caterpillar and old silk, like the Velvet Underground and Electrelane and Destroyer and Guided by Voices. Like liking a drink you know isn’t good for you; that’s good for you, that’s good for you, that you know isn’t good for you. They are a rock band just so faintly tripping. They are priests of Shaolin and the Holy See, with electric guitars in their hands, with an un-fancy drum-kit. Nap Eyes’ songs are mazey and riddled, but ambivalent about their mazes, ambivalent about their riddles; in this way they remind me of good smoke, holy incense smoke, always true to its incantation.
– Sean Michaels, Said the Gramophone