Hailing from Nova Scotia, Nap Eyes makes crooked, literate guitar pop refracted through the gray Halifax rain. Recorded live to tape with no overdubs, their songs are equal parts shambling and sophisticated, with one eye on the dirt and one trained on the starry firmament, inhabiting a skewed world where odes to NASA and the Earth’s magnetic field coexist easily with lyrics about insomnia and drinking too much.
In the world of Nap Eyes, workaday details punctuate (and puncture) cosmic concerns, as songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist Nigel Chapman wrestles with air and angels, struggling (and often failing) to reconcile the Romantic rifts, both real and imagined, that define our lives: between chaos and order; solipsism and fellowship; the anxiety of social (dis)orders both big and small; and the various intersections and oppositions of religion, art, and science.
The latter three collapsing categories ring particularly relevant for Chapman, a biochemist who spends his weekdays in a research lab, mutating the gene/DNA encoding of a cell-surface receptor protein. As with us all, our diurnal labor and studies inform our creativity, day creeps into night, and so it’s no surprise that sicknesses of “brain protein aggregation” and “up-regulated oncogene” appear in Nap Eyes songs, infecting, by proximity, the more traditionally songwriterly tropes of heart sickness. The songs resonate because they manage to delicately balance the cryptic and the quotidian, rendering a compellingly honest equivocation without evasiveness, a relatable ambivalence without apathy.
In typically insular Halifax music scene fashion, Nap Eyes shares three of its four members—Josh Salter (bass), Seamus Dalton (drums), and Brad Loughead (lead guitar)—with two other notable local bands, kindred spirits and sometime touring partners Monomyth (Josh and Seamus’s project) and Each Other (which includes Brad as well as Nap Eyes recording engineer Mike Wright.) They’re old friends who have collaborated in various configurations over the past decade; Nigel and Brad met in high school at rock and roll camp. Though the indelibly wistful vocal melodies are Nigel’s, Josh, Seamus, and Brad are the primary architects of Nap Eyes’ keen sonic signature, which cruises briskly and beautifully along the dog-eared axes of jangle-jaded Oceanic pop music (The Clean, The Verlaines, The Go-Betweens), and through the backpages of Peter Perrett (The Only Ones, England’s Glory) and Nikki Sudden (Swell Maps, Jacobites), via all things Lou Reed and Modern Lovers, without ever sounding very much like anything else happening today.
Part of the secret of Nap Eyes may reside in their avowed recording method, which eschews any overdubs in favor of capturing the immediacy and singularity of full-band live performances. Nigel explains their methodology best: “You get the feeling of the song; everyone’s feeling, all as one take in time, so things fit together naturally, and even mistakes sound natural. This not to discredit any of the incredible recordings made by different principles; it’s just its own kettle of fish.” As a result, both lyrically and musically, the music of Nap Eyes articulates the urgency of youthful grace. It’s the sound of being young and alive in the city, a tenuous and impermanent counterpoise of recklessness and anxiety, archness and earnestness.
Following the July 2015 reissue of their 2014 debut Whine of the Mystic—available in Canada from You’ve Changed Records and in the rest of the world from Paradise of Bachelors—Nap Eyes released an album of all-new material entitled Thought Rock Fish Scale in early 2016. The critically acclaimed album, described by Pitchfork as “brimming with passion and protest,” was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.