Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bahamas’ ‘Earthtones’ oozes confidence with a breezy energy

‘Earthtones’ is Bahamas at his most confident

Official Bahamas Facebook page

Official Bahamas Facebook page

By Matt Leonard, Collegian Staff

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“Earthtones” is the fourth studio album from Canadian musician Bahamas, born Afie Jurvanen. The album was released on Jan. 19 through the Brushfire label. It’s his first album since 2014’s “Bahamas is Afie,” continuing a soulful R&B-influenced folk sound that relies on guitar hooks and warmth to charm listeners.

Jurvanen’s smooth tones are often backed by groovy instrumentation, a mid-slow tempo and harmonies from a small choir of back-up singers. The record’s biggest strength is its warmth, which invites listeners to take a breather and relax for a moment.

The album starts with the energetic “Alone.” Jurvanen ruminates on the ways men and women love, and the inherent differences between genders. The song sounds hopeful, as if Jurvanen may have found love to make the listener feel less alone. The simple rhythm backing his voice and moments of guitar flourish fill the song’s sound out sweetly and sets up the album’s tone. The added depth of back-up vocalists turns the song into a strong opener with its stripped-down approach.

“Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song)” is a groovy, slow-tempo track driven by drums and a lazy clap. Jurvanen’s slick guitar work is layered atop these foundations into a track that is aurally pleasing and makes you want to get up and groove with somebody. The song is lyrically marked by Jurvanen’s contemplation over past career mistakes, his time as an opening act and imposter syndrome. He asks, “Is my music not good enough?” throughout the track. It’s a reflection upon his career that shows maturity and thankfulness for where he is now.

“No Wrong” shows Jurvanen falling into a bit of a musical rut. The song, slower than the previous two, doesn’t really go anywhere. Jurvanen even notes that he’s been “repeating” himself since a track (“Southern Drawl”) off his first album, which has acted as a compositional blueprint for much of his work. “No Wrong” isn’t a bad song, but it’s a bit tired in its execution.

“Show Me Naomi” is a standout track on the album. It’s groovy with a fun and playful hook that invites listeners to groove along. Jurvanen’s emphasis on back-up vocals throughout “Earthtones” appears again on this track, and it creates a lively back-and-forth with his own lyrics.

“No Expectations” and “Way With Words” mark the halfway point for the album. Both tracks are good, if nothing new by this point for the album. “Way With Words” is a confident composition with slick harmonies and Jurvanen’s consistently smooth guitar-work.

“Bad Boys Need Love Too” is an odd track. It’s darker than the rest of the album, uses three distinct voices and features Jurvanen delivering a slow rap over choppy instrumentation. The song is effective in its shift in production and darker tones. The guitar’s addition halfway through adds a great sense of depth and weight to the track. The song also has Jurvanen commenting on climate change for some reason before getting back to the “bad boys need love too” angle.

“Everything to Everyone” gets right back to the sounds the rest of the album utilizes — namely a stripped-back, slow percussive foundation with groovy guitar on top. It is a good stereo mix with a warmth and genuine feeling that permeates the entire album.

“So Free” is the longest song on the album by over three minutes, coming to a lengthy seven minutes and change. The slow, plodding tempo oozes confidence while Jurvanen sings about white privilege, ignorance and his feeling of failure to make a difference. The lyrics, “I don’t know that I can make a difference/White privilege is dark,” are met by hushed tones from a female vocalist, singing “I’ve always thought love can make a difference.” Jurvanen’s maturity is on full display here, as he recognizes his own privilege and inaction thus far. “So Free” also incorporates a lovely, smooth and confident production that smartly utilizes its time to make its length feel purposeful.

“No Depression” has some of the best wordplay on the album, backed by another groovy composition. “I feel it through my shoes/they used to call that the blues/now they call it depression” is a standout lyric. Introspective and enjoyable, “No Depression” is an intimate penultimate track. The album’s final track, “Any Place,” sees Jurvanen reach into the depths of his vocal range to portray the feeling of reluctance and pain that the song showcases.

Bahamas feels more mature on “Earthtones.” Jurvanen has embraced his 36-year-old perspective and place in the world, instead of chasing an increasingly distant youth. The songs can end up blending together, with a similar tempo and instrumentation throughout, which hurts the album’s ability to distinguish itself. Jurvanen has a strong ear for harmonious production, and “Earthtones” showcases his increasing confidence in this artistic vision.

Matt Leonard can be reached at [email protected]

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