Afie Jurvanen is a master of playing crucial notes in limited space. He’s spent years supporting bigger names and (more often than not) lesser talents, filling in space and creating mood when asked.
There’s an old Jets to Brazil lyric where Blake – a power chord chugger – thanks his guitarist for making his three chords sound like eight. Although Jurvaven doesn’t ask for back up or support on his new LP, in true backing guitarist fashion, he uses the subtlest touch to make the sound feel as full as a heart in love.
When all is said and done, Barchords will mark Afie’s triumphant transition from skilled guitarist and workmanlike songwriter to a legitimate front man.
Afie and his band never sacrifices melody for dexterity. Afie uses open space (sometimes too much) and remarkably straightforward finger work to write true songs, not just canvases to demonstrate masterful skill. In fact, when he works the fret board on “My Sweet Touch”, it’s a surprising and welcome change of pace and sound.
The songs present heartache and true happiness without becoming cliche. One of the best moments is when Afie joyfully thanks pop masterpieces from greats like George Harrison and Sam Cooke, a tribute that could have easily become hokey and hack. Instead, you embrace his unbridled happiness and sing along. Pink Strat was a love letter to the guitar that kept him company for so many years, and certainly images of hockey teeth and loneliness helped form the mood, but this time out, he expands his range and connects with listeners.
Whether the band (one cannot overstate the importance of Jason Tait’s percussion, Darcy Yates’ bass or the backing vocals of Carleigh Aikins and Felicity Williams) hints at blues (the stand out “Let There Be Light”), pure pop or fantastic atmospherics, the results feel effortless and accessible.
As much as I loved his debut, it didn’t seem like a great fit for the label that picked him up. Barchords is a more focused sound, one that ranges from minimal to breeze laid back pop. Afie pushes his vocals to the front, and rides the gentle waves of bass and backing vocals, and his guitar work is more suited for the masses than the purist. That transition was needed and is what we should be celebrating instead of Afie’s remarkable skill. This isn’t a guitar record. It’s a pop record written by a talented guitarist.