By James Calvet
Halifax-based group Nap Eyes arose from the underground scene in mid 2014 with their sleeper hit debut album Whine of the Mystics. The record is a raw, reserved indie pop record with jangly, twangy tendencies that earn them labels as a folk rock or alt-country act. Unlike most artists labeled folk and Americana, Nap Eyes don't rely on lyrical and thematic clichés and instead pack loads of personality into their performance and execution to make their sound effortlessly esoteric and original. Lead singer Nigel Chapman is a Biochemist by day but writes charming rock songs with lyrics that are simultaneously mundane and profound. Whine of the Mystics is a drinker's record that focuses more on the after-effects of alcohol and the drunken, philosophical late-night rants after too much Pinot. In 2015 Whine of the Mystics was picked up by North Carolina record label Paradise of Bachelors and re-released to promote their forthcoming sophomore release. With repeated listens, the record became one of the most interesting and captivating indie records of the year. With song's referring to astrophysics, Omar Khayyam, rare insomnia conditions and wine, the album couldn't be better lyrically.
In February of 2016, Nap Eye's sophomore record Thought Rock Fish Scale furthered the young group's sound along with tightening up the loose ends. The record begins with the mellow and loungy track "Mixer" that feels like the relaxation of the first drink to start off a weekend before the night really ramps up. Unlike their debut, the group's sound and personality feels more realized. The chord progressions are simple, catchy and poppy but executed in a way that is so quiet and subdued that they sound like a band practicing in the basement late at night trying not to wake the neighbors. But with the subtle instrumentation, the vocals and lyrics shine through and take the center stage. Although Chapman's vocals and lyrics are the centerpiece of the album, his unassuming and lazy delivery is so natural and charming that his lyrics read more like casual conversation at the dinner table rather than a rock star shouting to the masses.
On highlight track "Lion In Chains", the group slowly walks down almost seven minutes of mildly psychedelic indie pop. The track depicts a lion in chains above a number of characters. Though the track is seemingly melancholic, the lines about the Titanic, copious amounts of dimes spent at an arcade and a water heater being turned off in the summer months are oddly funny bringing just enough light into the composition.
A personal favorite on the album, "Roll It" is the closest that the group comes to sounding like Velvet Underground minus the noisy and distorted passages that Lou Reed loved so much. The track is a short indie pop song with a bouncy beat and a freewheeling sensibility that resembles a modern version of "Trucking" by the Dead with the psychedelics replaced with quick wit and anxious tendencies. The track breaks into a halftime speed around the two-minute mark really opening up the track letting the smooth melodies breathe and evolve. Then the track tightens back up suddenly to cross the finish line at a good-natured pace finishing off the song cleanly.
Though Rock Fish Scale is a direct, to-the-point indie rock record minus the thrills that may not catch the attention of fans of flashy music, but the record is profound in it's ability to find deep meaning and emotion in the dry and mundane. Like a good friend you get to know over time, the record reveals it's personality and quirks with repeated listens. With Nap Eye's ability to succeed in making an engaging and likable straight-forward indie rock record is a reminder of how great the genre really is at its base level. Whether or not Thought Rock Fish Scale turns out to be a sleeper hit or not, it will undoubtedly be remembered one of the best indie records to be released in 2016.
Out now on Paradise of Bachelors, Thought Rock Fish Scale by Nap Eyes is Radio 1190's CD of the Month for February of 2016. Purchase the record now at paradiseofbachelors.com or request it at your local record store.