2018Nap Eyes w/ She-Devils
AprilDoors 8:30, Show 9:30 - $12adv / $14
I’m Bad Now, the most transparent and personal Nap Eyes album to date, constitutes the third chapter of an implicit, informal trilogy that includes Whine of the Mystic (2014, reissued in 2015) and Thought Rock Fish Scale (2016), which was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. The new songs position Nigel as a “cosmical mind” in the tradition of Olaf Stapledon’s philosophical science fiction novel Star Maker (1937), an existential detective who interrogates social, psychological, and spiritual milieus for clues about the elusive nature of knowledge. In this role, the song-persona, if not the songwriter, resembles a monkish, beatifically stoned Columbo, vigilantly squinty-eyed in his metaphysical quest for self-understanding, despite ostensible bumbling on the physical plane. The technology is essentially catechismal, taking the form of questions and answers posed to assert faith, or to defend doubt. The lyrics traffic in second-person address, but the “you” is often Nigel himself, a gaze inward and not, as in the “you” of most romantic pop songs, directed outward to others. (See “I’m Bad,” the almost-title track that deletes the temporal anchor of “now,” which employs second person self-address in a country-rock inclined tune that is stylistically different than anything the band has attempted, as well as mockingly self-flagellating. “You’re so dumb,” Nigel sings to himself, diagnosing his delusions.)
And yet some of the loveliest moments on I’m Bad Now involve rare glimpses of connection, anxious invitations to alien others. The galloping rhythmic rush of “Roses” locates an external “you” that remains a mirrored embrace: “People look for their reflections/Everywhere in everyone/Some like a soft glow, some a little sharper depiction.” In “You Like to Joke Around with Me,” our hard-pressed hero is redeemed by friendship: “Last night, my friends surprised me/With gestures of kindness I’d never expect,” catalyzing a minor revelation: “Tuning yourself/To catch another’s wavelength/Sure can make a difference/In this world.” The band itself is tuned to the wavelength of succinctly stinging, guitar-centric rock and roll—in other words, and by today’s genre standards, folk music.
While Nigel composes Nap Eyes songs in their inchoate form at home in Halifax, Brad Loughead (lead guitar), Josh Salter (bass), and Seamus Dalton (drums), who live a twelve-hour drive away in Montreal, augment and arrange them, transubstantiating his skeletal, ruminative wafers into discourses that aim to transcend what Nigel, in the song “Dull Me Line,” self-laceratingly deems “bored and lazy disappointment art.” The band provides ballast and bowsprit to Nigel’s cosmical mind. The nautical metaphor is not just whimsy: Nap Eyes are all Nova Scotians by raising and temperament, acclimated to life on an Atlantic peninsula linked narrowly to the rest of North America (“Follow Me Down,” with its “broad cove” and bay, and “Boats Appear,” with its “steam trails rising from the sea,” both offer an evocative sense of place for these otherwise mental mysteries.) Brad is a physical guitarist whose lyrical grace is matched only by the dark ferocity of his feedback-laced solos. Salter and Dalton exercise an unassuming mind-meld melodicism and vigor, and their gentle thrumming lends a new sonic clarity, depth, and range to match the effortless melodies and extraordinary writing. One couplet herein suggests the exalted life-force of rhythm in the estimation of Nap Eyes: “Hearing the bass as you enter your teens/Exit your life recollecting universal themes.”
The indelible instrumentation, coupled with the calm, lucid inquisitiveness of Nigel’s voice elevate certain verses, like this one from “Follow Me Down,” to the heights of everyday poetry:
I went out walking with my headphones on
Classical Indian raga twenty minutes long
Then I listened to old American folk song
A little bit shorter, still a lot going on
Nap Eyes songs resonate because they manage to balance delicately the cryptic and the quotidian, rendering a compellingly honest equivocation without evasiveness, a relatable ambivalence without apathy. As a result, both lyrically and musically, their music 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. So let fly the cosmical mind into the gray night, dear listener.
Alongside her friend and bandmate Kyle Jukka, she has summoned ‘She-Devils’: a channel through which Audrey Ann and Kyle explore the sensory world, actualize aesthetic fantasies and alchemize pieces of history into entirely new sensations.
Through primitive electronic gear, hypnotist vocals, and an “amusement park of sounds”, the duo’s album constructs a fun-house world of beautiful chaos. The music is built from original sonics inspired by everything from Iggy Pop to Madonna to T-Rex to Can, as well as the romantic longing of ‘60s yé-yé.
The pair met four years ago while living at a music rehearsal space in the Mile-Ex neighbourhood of Montreal. “We were like wild animals, kind of fearful and just surviving,” recalls Kyle, “But we had certain obsessions and needed to build something out of them, to transcend our lives and express our visions and inspirations.” In this state, Kyle and Audrey formed a friendship based on a love of the dreamy and the beautiful. “She-Devils is a ship we built to sail us away to a better place,” says Audrey.
The band played gigs for about eight months though they did not record right away. Making music together meant following their own rules and taking things one step at a time. “I never sang before starting She-Devils,” says Audrey. “I have to learn just by doing it, through intuition. I learned vocal warm-ups I found online so I could train the reflexes of my body, since it’s kind of like training my body’s ability to respond to intuition.” Following instinct is a crucial part of She-Devils’ identity.
Striving to make music that feels “as visual as possible,” the band hopes to strap listeners into a rollercoaster ride “with Audrey’s voice as the centrepiece to cling to.” The duo are inspired by the cinema and art of Gregg Araki, Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol, John Waters and Quentin Tarantino. They direct their own videos. Audrey creates the artwork that accompanies the music. Her self-taught style evolved by watching hours of Disney movies, The Simpsons and Powerpuff Girls. “Those influences are very present in my drawings and paintings,” she says.
Audrey is also musically self-taught. In fact, she had never even played music before forming She-Devils. “I’ve always seen music from the perspective of an artist or music lover rather than that of a musician,” she explains. “When I sing over a loop, I don’t feel like I’m in control of what I do, or that I am cerebrally engaged with making music, it’s more like my subconscious is completely taking over my mind and it just comes out of my dreams.”
You only have to listen to the album to understand what Audrey’s saying. Dig a little into her lyrics and this entrancing quality becomes even more palpable. “There’s a place where we can go / Right here if you let me take you in / I know that this is for real / I saw the look in your eyes,” she croons on ‘Never Let Me Go,’ over Kyle’s woozy, layered guitars.
Elsewhere on the album, standout tracks include ‘How Do You Feel’ - a swirling fantasia about adolescent love - ‘You Don’t Know’, with its trebly jangle-pop, and ’The World Laughs,’ which hits a high of creepy rock ‘n roll psychedelia.
Kyle and Audrey think they fit together perfectly. “I try to use my ears to travel, and like a traveller I want to feel sonic emotions and hear things I haven’t before, that’s the excitement of it,” says Kyle, “The challenge is to make that into a cohesive work, but Audrey makes it so easy because she has this vibe as a singer that immediately connected with my imagination.” The connection of these two friends—their tensions, harmonies and oppositions—is probably the most crucial part of all. Their debut self-titled album arrives this May.