If there’s a single track that summarizes Nap Eyes’ new album Snapshot of a Beginner, it’s “Mystery Calling,” a five-minute evocation of the band’s determinedly laid back aesthetic. “I’ve got some work today,” frontman Nigel Chapman casually croons, as if to weigh options between writing and sorting socks. “Maybe I should forget my song, just procrastinate.” When mystery calls, what else is one to do but answer it?
Snapshot of a Beginner feels like a door into Chapman’s brain and a mellowing out of Nap Eyes’ music: Each track unravels varying philosophical musings over the relaxing hum of low-key musicianship, as if the goal is to meditate rather than bop.
Not that Snapshot of a Beginner doesn’t have its fair share of bops, but even the songs made to get listeners moving—“Mark Zuckerberg,” “If You Were In Prison”—read as instructive of Chapman’s thought process. Would anybody other than Chapman have come up with a song imagining the billionaire Facebook founder as a ghost? “Where are his hands?” Chapman demands on the opening verse, “And why don’t you ever see them in public?” Great questions! Who the hell knows, and what the hell kind of person would think to ask them? This is the kind of stream of consciousness ruminative earworm born out of an hour-long hot yoga session, so assuredly strange and irregularly composed that it manages to be profound in spite of itself.
That’s irreverence at its finest: Art made with tongue planted firmly in its cheek can still squeak substance by silliness, no matter how trivial it appears. “Dark Link,” the record’s ninth track, is at face value an ode to The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, likely the most-played videogame for the average millennial nerd. If you forgot what it was like squaring off with Phantom Ganon in the Forest Temple for the first time, then let Chapman jog your memory by regaling you with his account of that fateful boss fight. Maybe a song about Zelda would feel more at home as sung by The Mountain Goats on an album built on fantasy world trappings. But Snapshot of a Beginner is so embedded within Chapman’s personal ponderings that after a few run-throughs, “Dark Link” feels essential. The album doesn’t work without it.
This is uniquely off-kilter work supported by an easygoing indie rock style, unbridled beach music that’s equally as good for lounging as for partying; taken as such, the lyrics’ meaningful meaninglessness actually facilitates its function. Imagine carousing with your pals and over the din of the bar hearing Chapman make earnest professions about his desire for truth on “Real Thoughts”: “I don’t wanna hear some bullshit / Don’t wanna hear some fake news / I don’t wanna hear some other shit / Miss the point of the groove.” His words validate Snapshot of a Beginner’s wanton absurdity: If he’s not interested in bullshit, and if all he cares about is the groove, it makes sense that he and his bandmates—drummer Seamus Dalton, bassist Josh Salter and guitarist Brad Loughead—would aim for immediacy in their music first and messaging second.
Rock music should be fun. It shouldn’t be shallow, mind you, but if you’re not having a good time listening to it, then you have little reason to bother with it. Snapshot of a Beginner wants to have fun, whether through the swaying, airy scheme of its most danceable tracks or the up-tempo noodling of its energetic ones. Finding greater artistic value in the weirdness is a bonus.
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.