Snapshot of a Beginner
On Nap Eyes’ fourth LP, Snapshot of a Beginner, singer/guitarist Nigel Chapman contemplates individualism in many of its forms.
Such introspection is nothing new for him. He has sought universal and personal truths throughout all the Halifax band’s albums. But what is new for Nap Eyes on Snapshot is their evolved songwriting and, thanks to producers James Elkington and Jonathan Low, fuller sound. Along with Seamus Dalton on drums, Joshua Salter on bass, and Brad Loughead on guitar, Elkington also helped flesh out the arrangements by contributing piano, organ, synthesizer, pedal steel, and guitar, while Low also contributed keys.
There’s always a weight to Nap Eyes’ music, as thoughts hang heavily on Chapman. You can feel it right away on Snapshot’s weary opening track, “So Tired.” The term folk rock has always been a couple of sizes too big to fit Nap Eyes, but here, they undeniably lean into a country twang, as he talks to himself in third person: “Nigel you’re so scared / Of people trying to control your life and criticize you / Change what you do / Make you have to admit / Anyone else knows better than you do.”
On “Mystery Calling,” which ripples with faint piano and tepid drums like a moonlit pond coming alive with nocturnal life, Chapman tackles procrastination and initiative: “I’ve got some work today / Not the kind that’s fun to play / I’ve got some work to do today / Maybe I should forget my song / Just procrastinate /…/ If you don’t look at yourself, who’s going to be the one? / If you don’t try to figure it out / Who’s going to do it for you?”
Chapman is creatively frustrated on the sprightly, galloping “Though I Wish I Could.” He’s rendered bored and boorish and feels like a phoney and a loser because of writer’s block. He’s also frustrated in realizing he’s been a “self-righteous pawn” in someone else’s game that has guided his destination. The song can be heard as both a cry for autonomy and a mission to prove himself as a songwriter, if not to others, then to himself.
Chapman even traces individualism to the beginning of life on “Primordial Soup,” referencing “a molecule different from every other one” that would eventually replicate itself and become the “alma mater of all life to come.”
To Chapman, not being able to be an individual means losing his freedom. “What would that make you feel like / If you couldn’t do the things that you like to do anymore / ‘Cause you were in prison?” he asks on the absolute blowout, “If You Were in Prison.”
Even though much of Snapshot is preoccupied with the self, Chapman does desire to connect with and even understand others. On the pedal steel whining “Even Though I Can’t Read Your Mind,” he sings, “Even though I can’t read your mind / Sometimes I still can see it in your eyes / That you’re not really too curious about what makes me tick / But of course that’s only one side though / … / Even though I can’t read your mind / Sometimes I still can see it in your eyes / That you’re not really too worried about what makes me who I am.”
Later, on the nearly eight-minute “Real Thoughts,” Chapman sings, “Please share your real thoughts with me / I don’t want to be hidden in a shroud / I don’t want to be hidden from those around me.” With Snapshot of a Beginner, he continues making connections and clearing the fog around his self-awareness one album at a time.
review by Leslie Chu