When thinking about nature, the desert, the ocean — shades of green, blue, browns, and sunset oranges come to mind. This is exactly what Bahamas’ newest album Earthtones, released Jan. 19, aims for: stripped down, funky, and all naturale.
Bahamas, who had his album debut in 2009 with Pink Strat, is the indie-folk solo project of Toronto-based singer/songwriter Afie Jurvanen. After releasing the album, Jurvanen went on tour in support of Wilco before he followed up with Barchords in 2012. He blew up in 2014 with the third Bahamas album, Bahamas is Afie, which contained the hit song “All the Time.”
Billboard’s interview with Bahamas details the creative process that went into Earthtones, including jamming with musicians Pino Palladino (bassist) and James Gadson (drummer).
Opening with “Alone,” Bahamas explores men and women being “equal but not the same” via ominous synth-Western music accompanied by raspy sing-talking. Airy voices and guitar licks escalate into high-pitched ooh’s and ahh’s. A beat kicks in after two and a half minutes.
The aptly titled “Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby song)” begins with rapid drumming and muted voices crooning “shooby dooby.” Despite the humorous title, the song is a poignant meta-reflection on the purpose of being a musician when there’s no guarantee of fulfillment or being good enough.
“No Wrong” is jazzy, soothing, and forlorn. This is an ironic title, as Jurvanen sings that he realizes and admits his loneliness and mistakes with deep yet straightforward lyrics: “I was the champion but I folded my hand…now I’m falling for a friend of a friend, I see my whole life coming up around the bend.”
Cue a fun, upbeat segway featuring clean guitar and head bobbing. “Show Me, Naomi” soundwise inspires finger guns; lyrically, it’s a love song about what hard-to-read Naomi wants from Jurvanen. While the listener hopes Naomi will eventually show him, one is thankful she didn’t so he’d have a muse to write this groove.
“No Expectations” is made up of a more monotone vocal approach, a laidback yet catchy beat and country-esque guitar. He sings a bittersweet chorus suggesting that their relationship might not be meant to be, if “commiting to him” feels like “commiting a crime.”
“Way with Words” features Bahamas again questioning life with a low key angelic sound, with a catchy chorus paired with funky guitar. This song encapsulates what Earthtones seems to be exploring: moving on, letting things go, and growing at a natural pace.
“Bad Boys Need Love Too” is comedic and harkens back to sing-talking. The song is coupled with an angrier, rock n’ roll sound. Lyrics revolve around growing up without a father and segway into calling out individuals who don’t care about Mother Nature, or his mother, or nature (woah).
More pop than the rest of Earthtones, “Everything to Everyone” is about having it and losing it all due to desperately trying to people-please. There’s some marimba-esque percussion and sweet muted guitar throughout.
“Any Place” ends Earthtones with sexy, slow paced bass, guitar, and simple drums in the background. Jurvanen’s voice is raw as he sings about his past choices and how it’s “hard to live inside a memory” and mistakenly thinks he has moved on. As the song (and the album) ends, Bahamas sums it all up with “the show must go on, can’t live my life inside a song…because every song ends.”
Overall, Earthtones is a groovy, folk album that is both cerebral and artistic, searching and forgetting, reflective and progressive. Bahamas has both taken a musical and lyrical step forward — all while getting back to his earthy roots.