Since Nap Eyes’ 2014 debut album, there have been endless comparisons between the Halifax slacker-rock band and the Velvet Underground. And while singer-songwriter Nigel Chapman does have a lot of Lou Reed in that voice of his, the band’s new album should finally let Nap Eyes stand independently of any “sounds like” territory.
Chapman originally played solo under the moniker the Mighty Northumberland before bassist Josh Salter and drummer Seamus Dalton joined to make the first iteration of Nap Eyes in 2011. Guitarist Brad Loughead joined for that 2014 debut, Whine of the Mystic, which was self-released, and didn’t go very far until You’ve Changed Records and Paradise of Bachelors re-released it in Canada and the States, respectively, in 2015. Suddenly outlets like Pitchfork and Stereogum were paying attention, giving the band a higher profile from which to launch its now acclaimed 2016 release, Thought Rock Fish Scale.
Two years later, I’m Bad Now is what Nap Eyes is calling the third instalment of an informal trilogy, and it’s a tighter, stronger offering of Chapman’s quick-witted, smart lyricism — with room for the band not to take itself too seriously.
For quasi title track “I’m Bad,” Nap Eyes recently released a video directed by Seth Smith and produced by Nancy Urich (Not You). In it, the band and some randoms sit for a Renaissance-styled painting, with everyone dressed in appropriate — or outrageous — costumes for the setting. Picnicface’s Cheryl Hann plays the disgruntled painter, as Chapman sings, in conversation with himself, “But nothing gets past you now/ because you always see it come/ said it moves even slower than you/ which is amazing, because you’re so dumb,” before Hann hands him the finished product. You know how you see yourself, but how do others see you? (As blobs of paint with giant eyes, in this case.)
It’s what strikes most clearly about Nap Eyes, and the songs on I’m Bad Now: there is no slack in this rock, as Chapman writes music that is genuine but not earnest. His lyrics cut through any bullshit with their sharpness, teasing out images like “Somebody sent you roses/ now what do you do with them?/ You’ve got no reason to trim them/ no nice place to throw them” (“Roses) and “In the background of a silent city/ a hard-pressed individual scolds/ himself for entertaining self-pity/ while a nightingale’s cool voice rolls/ into the wind” (“You Like to Joke Around With Me”). He makes the songs feel lived-in without using tired tropes.
Recorded and mixed by Howard Bilerman with Mike Wright at Hotel2Tango in Montreal, I'm Bad Now's only remaining Halifax connection is Chapman (Dalton, Loughead and Salter are all in Montreal now). Despite that, you can still hear the deceptive pull of the ocean. Digital bonus track “Boats Appear” dreams of boats on the water, while Chapman references “down by the water” and “where the broad cove carries into the bay” in the song “Follow me Down.” It’s subtle, but not nothing.
On I’m Bad Now, Nap Eyes continues to forge its way forward, crafting original songs on a bed of '90s nostalgia with at least some deference to its predecessors. But now Nap Eyes doesn’t need that Velvet Underground comparison to get anywhere — I’m Bad Now completes the work for them.
I'm Bad Now will be out March 9. Pre-order the album here.