Published Oct 08, 2020"Is there some trick to being happy?" asks Bahamas (a.k.a. Afie Jurvanen) on "Trick to Happy," the opening track on Sad Hunk, his fifth full-length album since 2009's Pink Strat. This question seems to animate the album, filled to the brim with chilled-out meditations on domesticity, marriage, making a living as a musician, and navigating the contours of being "cool." Perhaps such existential questions are natural given that Jurvanen and his family recently relocated from Toronto to a quiet town on the coast of Nova Scotia.
Despite his change in scenery, Sad Hunk features Jurvanen's regular collaborators (Don Kerr, Felicity Williams, Christine Bougie and Mike O'Brien) along with new addition Sam Weber on guitar — musicians whose gentle, precise playing combines perfectly with Jurvanen's laid-back energy. Their prior LP, 2018's Earthtones pushed the band in new, unexpected directions in their collaborations with James Gadson and Pino Palladino, the legendary rhythm section from D'Angelo's Black Messiah (2014). Here, they return to their trademark soulful indie folk, a sound that is easily recognizable yet never formulaic.
Sad Hunk is perhaps the perfect title for this record, encapsulating Jurvanen's sweetness and sense of humour ("I'm not looking for another wife / I'm just looking at you, babe") as well as his melancholic edge and thoughtful nature. The album's first single, "Own Alone," is a shuffling, almost frantic groove on which Jurvanen proposes a toast to "cold and broken, lonely me," proclaiming himself "Too old to understand that selfie / Too far gone for you to help me." Jurvanen alternates between lighthearted and ponderous on songs such as the twangy "Done Did Me No Good" and "Up With the Jones," a plucky tune punctuated by handclaps and guitar tones that evoke Fleetwood Mac.
A running lyrical theme throughout, perhaps related to the question asked in "Trick to Happiness," is the value of economic security and cultural capital, touched upon in "Own Alone" ("Too broke to feel so wealthy") and "Not Cool Anymore," and directly addressed in both "Can't Complain" and "Fair Share." The latter two songs trace Jurvanen's feelings toward his career as a successful musician with Bahamas, wherein he expresses gratitude for being able to make a living with his art but asserts his wish to avoid a "bad deal with Warner" and symbols of wealth such as pension plans and private schools. Williams' lovely, gentle backing vocals provide a perfect counterpart to Jurvanen in the bluesy "Fair Share," in which Jurvanen offers advice to young musicians, in turn prompting him to ask the question, "Where does all of that leave me?"
The questions posed throughout Sad Hunk are perhaps unanswerable, yet reflect Jurvanen's deceptively complex, philosophical lyricism. Unassuming yet laid-back and confident, Bahamas have quickly become one of Canada's most beloved folk staples, as evidenced by a multitude of JUNO Awards and nominations. Sad Hunk captures the band's lively chemistry, proving that five albums in, Jurvanen and company are still finding ways to make "something new for all of you with some old refrain." (Brushfire)