Afie Jurvanen is feeling older. A lot has happened since he began recording music as Bahamas over a decade ago: His albums, 2014’s Bahamas is Afie and 2018’s Earthtones, won him multiple Juno awards. He also became a father and moved to Nova Scotia. If you somehow couldn’t tell from Bahamas’ laid-back music, which sounds like pure California-coastal folk rock by way of Canada, Jurvanen seems to have all the time in the world.
Time is catching up, but Jurvanen doesn’t appear to mind. Bahamas’ newest LP, Sad Hunk, addresses his transition into middle age with a dorky yet self-aware smile (and an equally hilarious mustache). Like its cover art, the album is decidedly uncool, but that’s part of the charm. This latest release doesn’t reinvent the wheel, choosing instead to coast on Jurvanen’s slowly maturing sound while offering earnest reflections on life since his career took off. It’s a friendly listen that is every bit as warm and sunny as what came before.
Sonically, Sad Hunk fully embraces Bahamas’ gradual transition from indie folk into album-oriented dad rock. While Jurvanen reaches for classic blues, folk and country rock elements, he blends them together in a way that feels both authentic and fun. It’s almost ridiculous how corny “Up With The Jones” should be, with all of its hand clapping and hoo-hahing in the chorus. Yet the muted guitar interplay and splashes of keyboard turn the frenzy of the song into an absolute delight, like getting swept up in the hilarity of a sitcom. Jurvanen sounds equally playful and frustrated on “Done Did Me No Good,” as roaring guitars jump across the surface of the laid-back groove. These are your parents’ newest favorite homespun songs — Dawes or Wilco with a splash of sunlight and a pina colada.
The album’s emotional moments work just as well. “Trick To Happy” succeeds in part due to its earnestness, making no attempt to significantly embellish the track’s melody and arrangement. The backing female harmonies on “Less Than Love” beautifully compliment Jurvanen’s low, warm vocals, which shine brightly front and center in the mix. These parts build upon the song’s chugging, longing energy alongside guitars and drums. And when he forgoes all additional instruments during the album’s entirely acoustic half-time “Half Your Love,” it’s wholly intimate, humble and convincing.
Bahamas has never been the most inventive lyricist, but his words are carefully considered and powerful despite their simplicity. The best songs on his early records Pink Strat and Barchords felt fresh yet strangely recognizable, as if he was telling you words that you already knew yet never managed to hear aloud.
On “Can’t Complain,” he lays his cards on the table, revealing the nature of his music: “From some old refrain/ Take what’s already been done/ Find some new way to get the song sung.” Songs across Sad Hunk adhere to this line for better or for worse, occasionally falling into the realm of generic. At its worst, the album is as sappy yet unaffecting as many of Jurvanen’s Brushfire Records labelmates, which makes total sense considering his boss is none other than Jack Johnson.
“I guess the whole thing’s about forgiveness,” Jurvanen realizes on“Wisdom Of The World.” The song’s fuzzed out edges bow into softly strummed layers of acoustic guitar, bookending an album that is the equivalent of a meaningful road trip with your wry-humored dad. On the surface, Sad Hunk is every bit as aesthetically uncool and corny as so many of its dad-rock peers, yet there are genuinely endearing moments in ample supply that lend it an almost bulletproof quality. Jurvanen wears his cheesiness like a suit of armor and largely succeeds, delivering an album that is overflowing with sincerity, wholesomeness and charming, albeit familiar, songs. Cool or not, can you really blame him for trying?