Thought Rock Fish Scale, the second album by Canadian indie rock outfit Nap Eyes, opens on a surprisingly melancholic note. The Velvet Underground influence is immediately apparent, but it’s channeled through a heartland aesthetic, as it evokes images of abandoned roadside strip malls—the real America. All the while, two potential lovers quietly hold hands during the ride, serenaded by the sound of fallen expectations. With his blasé, but relatable lyrics, vocalist Nigel Chapman begins by telling a story about a mixer he’s attended one Friday night. It shouldn’t be all that bad—after all, “some pretty girls and guys are here”—but soon enough, he’s caught himself wondering “if I’m really here.” If anything, this sort of intrapersonal exchange sets the tone for the rest of the record. Even with all the inherent uniqueness within humanity we’re all one, and Chapman’s clearly trying to reconcile this knowledge with the fact that it’s just him at the end of the day. Only he is in control of his own life—and as such, self-awareness is key. “It’s easy to understand what it is that makes me feel this way; it’s not so easy to make all my problems go away,” he sings. “Then again, what else is there—another life? Some other way?”
Introspection is good, but it can just as easily take a turn for the worse when taken out of moderation. Chapman starts off surprisingly hopeful and self-aware in “Stargazer,” realizing that he’s “got to be clean and try to control my body ‘cause no one else [is] going to.” Like he says, “if you go around trying to please everybody, it only becomes your crutch.” It’s at this point when introspection begins to distract the subject from actually taking steps to grow. I can speak from personal experience here, as someone who spends so much time in my own head that I’m almost constantly terrified of doing anything. Idleness is comfortable, but only to a certain point. (This isn’t unique to me or Chapman—everyone’s scared. I’m not special, and as comforting as that knowledge should be, it’s also hard to take.) Chapman seems to have the same issue: “These days when I think I’m going to do something I wonder what I’m going to do,” he sings. “I have seen people go by me with such determination that it’s sick; I’d like to go to places they don’t know how to get to, but I can’t remember the trick.” It’s a difficult trick, indeed, especially when we’re all but forced to compare ourselves with everyone else. In this uber-connected world, how can you not?
Chapman’s lyrics on the next track, “Lion In Chains,” are considerably more cryptic. But aside from a line or two (“On the brink, a shadow covers over whatever future I thought that I could have”) his tone is a lot less pessimistic. Indeed, when he sings lines such as “Sleeping at the crest of a titanic crashing wave” or “At the arcade, I spent about 45,000 dimes,” I can’t help but grin. I don’t know exactly what he’s trying to get across here, but his poetic prowess and ability to communicate mundane, real-life situations in a way that’s interesting is, at once, charming. There is absolutely no irony here: he speaks with such genuineness that it’s occasionally insufferable. And that speaks for the instrumentals, too: they’re psychedelic in a smoky sense, evoking images of a nighttime campfire on the Nova Scotian coast, as the band members chain-smoke their way through amateur conversations on philosophy and metaphysics. It’s down-to-earth, to use a tired cliché. In particular, I’m reminded of recent albums from Steve Gunn and Ryley Walker on these tracks.
The rest of the record pales to these first three tracks, but there are still some highlights. “Click Clack” starts off on a very folksy note, before the band erupts out of nowhere, as Chapman speaks with alarming sincerity: “Sometimes, drinking, I feel so happy but then, I can’t remember why / Sometimes, drinking, I don’t know my best friend for my best friend.” And despite the nature of this confession, there is still a very precocious, cheeky curiosity at the heart of “Click Clack.” As he realizes, “In my head, I know who I really am / I’m gonna stay on track,” his voice rises to the point of breaking, and in a way, it’s almost adorable. “Roll It” is suddenly more upbeat, as Chapman begins to understand the fallacious notion of luck and “the Universe”: “Why didn’t he roll it—didn’t he have a feeling to go on?” he wonders. “Well, sometimes you just got to accept,” he realizes. “The feeling is something like disrespect, except it doesn’t even know I exist.”
It is at this point in the record that Chapman has truly achieved a sense of clarity about himself and his place in the world. There is a whole big world out there that’s larger than the whole of us combined—and even if we never discover it all, that’s okay. But before signing off, he has one more personal failing to reveal—and a question to ask: “I know you don’t trust me / I got some things I need to tell you anyway,” he laments. “Sometimes I can hardly believe the way you don’t believe what I say / Sometimes I can hardly believe the way you don’t believe me when I say I want you to trust me.” Because as little as he may have touched on the subject throughout, Thought Rock Fish Scale is really about one question: Can we truly understand and love ourselves without another human in the mix?