Bahamas finds a new way to channel the blues with ‘Earthtones’

Ruben Paquian

Songs about depression, changing times and nostalgic self-reflection aren’t usually paired with upbeat rhythms and funky guitar riffs, but that’s exactly what Toronto-based singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen pulls off in his fourth Bahamas LP, Earthtones.

Using the stage name Bahamas, Jurvanen made his debut in 2009 with Pink Strat, an album that held to traditional folk and alternative country roots. Throughout his career, the 27-year-old Canadian musician has fluctuated between more experimental variations of folk, but rarely strayed far. On his newest album, Earthtones, Jurvanen debuts a more funky, bluesy sound resulting in an enjoyable modern folk blues album.

In recent interviews, Jurvanen revealed many of Earthtone’s songs concern unsatisfactory relationships. Setting the tone of the album, the first track, “Alone” uses a dramatic entrance with a pulsing keyboard. As Jurvanen softly sings, he follows with calming, layered rhythmic vocals. As the song builds to its finish, the repeated lyric, “Yes men and women equal, but we’re not the same” encompasses frustrations, conflicts and struggles two lovers may face, saying there might be some things they can never agree on.

“Bad Boys Need Love Too” sustains the focus on relationships, addressing “all the deadbeat dads” as Jurvanen runs through a list of grievances he has with his own father. The slow and heavy blues-influenced song is a breath of fresh air from the repetitiveness of the previous songs and features one of the better guitar solos on the album.

Jurvanen shifts gears with doo-wop vocals, and upbeat clapping rhythm takes over with the next song titled “Opening Act (The Shooby Doo Song).” The groovy melody and claps make it easy to snap and swing to the beat while singing along to the yelling chorus. This swing rhythm appears on much of the album but after a while loses its luster, and it’s only occasionally saved by poetic lyrics and the occasional guitar solo like the one at the end of “No Expectation.”

Another one of the project’s stand out songs is “So Free”. Running just over seven minutes, it’s a soulful, head-bobbing cry of frustration, capturing the essence of feeling stuck in life. Jurvanen’s lyric, “I don’t think that I can make a difference,” hits this feeling at its core, with its drawn-out, pleading tone.

With the next song, “No Depression,” Jurvanen discusses his own battle with depression through a light-hearted, groovy song. The easy-going instrumentals clearly make it easier for Jurvanen to discuss difficult subject matter, helping explain his emotions. With this in mind, you feel much better singing about mental illness to an upbeat tone.

Ending Earthtones on a impactful note with the deeply soulful, nostalgic tune “Anyplace,” Jurvanen uses a deep voice and somber tone to discuss better times and his never-ending search for an escape from his problems. “Anyplace” truly embodies the mood of the album. Behind the swinging rhythms, upbeat background vocals and guitar solos found throughout the album is an artist exposing some of the deepest feelings of doubt, loss and struggle that many of us might face one day.

Earthtones may feel repetitive, but after you listen to it a few times through, the monotonous melodies become catchy. As a result, Bahamas’ latest project is a worthwhile listen, showing that the one-man show isn’t just a one-trick pony.

Rating: 7/10