Although Nap Eyes couldn’t have predicted the circumstances behind it, their fourth album, Snapshot of a Beginner is a comforting album for the social distancing era. Songwriter and vocalist, Nigel Chapman springs between anxiety-induced stalling of tasks (“Mystery Calling”) to “feeling bored and unquestionably boorish” for writing songs about himself on “Though I Wish I Could.” Snapshot of a Beginner takes both the snappy and slacker rock moments of Nap Eyes’ third album, I’m Bad Now and encourages your grooviest dance moves to some pensive jams.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia outfit is Chapman, Seamus Dalton on drums and percussion, guitarist Brad Loughead and bassist Joshua Salter. Joining them are producers, James Elkington (Joan Shelley, Steve Gunn), and Jonathan Low (The National, Big Red Machine) to elevate the band’s slick sound with flourishes of additional piano, keyboards, organ, synthesizer, pedal steel guitar, and percussion. Nap Eyes, exceedingly open and clever, may leave you entranced — but, contrary to the name, their music certainly isn’t a slog.
With the stunning “Mystery Calling,” Nap Eyes have created an anthem tailor-made for me. It’s a remarkable affair, detailing a look into the life of an overly anxious procrastinator: “I’ve got some work to do today/maybe I should forget my song, just procrastinate,” been there, still there. In the last minute, as the piano and acoustic guitar surge around each other, hopeful resignation reigns. “Please don’t give up on me,” Chapman croons. “I won’t give up on you.” It’s a sentiment shared in the gorgeous “Dark Link.”
Looking at the title and lyrics alone, the track seems like a slightly ridiculous ode to The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. While Nap Eyes do crack a couple of jokes here and there, the true intention of “Dark Link” is tying the personal and fantasy worlds together. It’s not as wild as you may think. How many of us have felt invincible after defeating Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple, or Malthael in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls? How many people continuously, perhaps annoyingly so, reference the Harry Potter universe and its themes of friendship, free will, mortality and confronting your fears? After calling back to an easy way to defeat Dark Link (using the Din’s Fire spell and the Megaton Hammer, or as Chapman says, “with sword and shield, or ‘Ton Hammer and Din”), the band circles back to perseverance. “This life never ends/there’s no chance of giving up, only getting up again.”
On the seven-minute opus, “Real Thoughts,” Nap Eyes don’t just realize their ambitions, they nail down the fundamental essence of Snapshot of a Beginner: maintaining an open-minded willingness to learn is crucial in hope and human interaction. “Real Thoughts” finds Nap Eyes sounding like at least three different bands. They’re a meditative indie-rock band, a thrilling jam band, and dabble in psychedelia; holding their own at each turn.
It would be easy to assume that Nap Eyes don’t rise above a low-key swell on Snapshot of a Beginner. However, that assumption robs you of the straightforward punk rock of “Fool Thinking Ways,” as well as the stunning catharsis of “Primordial Soup.” There’s a massive, walloping moment in the back half of “Primordial Soup,” where Chapman’s contemplative philosopher loses himself in a blanket of guitars. As instruments clash around him, Chapman stands on the rock of the shore with the salty sea breeze blowing through his door. “And I wondered why all this was made around me, and I wondered why I should be so free and happy/so sad and chained,” he sings. “Might feel lonely but what’s the meaning?” Perhaps the meaning attached to loneliness is insignificant. Or, as of March 2020, it’s the new normal.
Hell, assuming that Nap Eyes are just another sluggish indie-rock band also robs you of the delightful “Mark Zuckerberg.” Led by sweeping jangly guitars, the track is an earworm from start to finish. “Mark Zuckerberg” doesn’t take another dive into the Cambridge Analytica scandal or criticize the tech giant, instead the band offers a thoughtful, darkly funny poem on one of the world’s most recognizable figures. “Is Mark Zuckerberg a ghost?” Chapman asks, and where are his hands? “Why don’t you ever see them in public?” Nothing we see in carefully curated algorithms matters, nor do they offer true representations of who we are as human beings. Chapman sees the meaningless of all of this and frees himself from the holds of our aforementioned mate with a repeated coda: “Transcendence is all around us.” Just look closer.
With their fourth album, Nap Eyes achieved something near impossible by finding connections in an increasingly isolated age. Nap Eyes aren’t interested in bullshit or fake news. Here, they present some facts: Your sense of self shouldn’t ever be viewed through a capitalist lens. You are more than a cog in a machine that feeds the rich. Your thoughts, what you share with the world, and with your loved ones is what being human — and, coincidentally, what Snapshot of a Beginner is all about.