Snapshot of a Beginner is a sustained, focused, dynamic collection of songs that navigate the murky tangle of self in an attempt to arrive at a place where things feel clearer.
Sometimes, the hardest person to live with is yourself — the shitty roommate you can’t shake; the lingering internal monologue stoppered only by sleep, death, and those precious moments where experience takes the wheel. You can be a pesky, paranoid, pathetic, smug, nihilistic, naive little shit. You can be foolish, ponderous, suffocating, misanthropic, defensive, and self-righteous. Still, even in your most insufferable moments, yourself is often the only thing you can put any stock in. And whatever price we pay in confronting it seems preferable to the numbness of willful self-ignorance and deception.
Of course, it’s tempting to believe that self-reflexive thinking is a worthwhile pursuit with a definitive endpoint: genuine self-knowing and acceptance. In reality, though, it mostly feels like a fruitless, messy, exhausting, and unrelenting endeavour. So while it’s true to say that Nap Eyes’ Snapshot of a Beginner is a record that documents the process of confronting and questioning the self in all its multitudes, it does so with the knowledge that arriving at any sort of truth is wishful thinking. Thankfully for us, the journey through Nigel Chapman’s fool-thinking ways is a true joy made better by its utter lack of resolution.
Fittingly, the album begins with Chapman scolding himself. “Nigel, you’re so scared of people trying to control your life and criticize you, change what you do” go the first lines of the beautiful, languid opener “I’m So Tired”. The song sets the tone for the rest of the record lyrically and stylistically. Chapman laments feeling that the self is always getting in the way. Whether we’re trying to branch out, communicate and empathize with others, or channel our inspiration, the self is always there: looming, dictating, distracting, and disorientating.
Snapshot of a Beginner navigates this murky tangle of self in an attempt to arrive at a place where things feel clearer. There are fleeting moments of success: the paranoia-shattering transcendence of “Mark Zuckerberg”; the blissfully pragmatic clarity of “When I Struck Out on My Own”. There are failures, too: the regret and self-berating on “Though I Wish I Could”; the regressive self-awareness on “Fool Thinking Ways”; the isolation and confinement of “If You Were in Prison” (which hits a little too close to home these days).
Mostly, though, there are questions and relentless searching, best heard on songs like “Real Thoughts” and “Primordial Soup”. Where the former finds Chapman struggling with what it means to throw off the shroud and truly know those around him, the latter finds him literally standing on the rocks of the shore, pondering the big hows and whys that lead to this grand old mess. Yeah, it’s melodramatic, but Chapman — with his cozy Malkmus-meets-Lightfoot-esque delivery — tackles this well-worn topic with enough charm and unironic curiosity that it’s impossible to not lay down your defenses and ponder along with him. All that said, Chapman saves his best stuff for the late-album highlight “Dark Link”. Using two pivotal confrontations from The Ocarina of Timeas a framing device, he delves into our potential for duplicity and what it takes to resist succumbing entirely to the darkest parts of ourselves. The song could have devolved into camp in lesser hands, but the band’s tastefully sparse arrangement and Chapman’s gifted pen elevate it to an instant classic.
As vivid and affecting as Chapman’s words are, Snapshot of a Beginner’s sustained impact has everything to do with the music. Recorded at Long Pond Studio, famously owned and operated by Aaron Dessner of The National, Snapshot sounds focused, dynamic, and — considering the reigned-in nature of the band’s attack — huge. These songs play with such satisfying clarity and precision, combining folk, pop, jam, noise rock, motorik rhythms, and moments of unbridled guitar heroics. After three solid, yet frustratingly subdued records, Nap Eyes has found a musical formula more than capable of propping up an entire album’s worth of material.
The ability to live productively in close quarters with ourselves has certainly been put to the test over the last few weeks. This goes beyond the mere fact that we’ve been told to isolate and stay away from others. For me, and I am sure for others as well, it’s become a monumental challenge to pacify a highly anxious internal monologue that’s been jawing furiously in spite of all efforts to quiet it down. It lingers vaguely even during moments of relative calm — unreasonable, irrational, wandering wildly.
In light of all this fear and uncertainty, Snapshot of a Beginner has been a source of tremendous comfort. This isn’t necessarily because it provides an escape or a reprieve. Instead, Chapman’s earnest — and ultimately fruitless — stabs at clarity are a reminder that reigning in and establishing any sort of control over my internal monologue is an un-winnable war. Instead of aiming control it or live in spite of it, it’s about learning how to live in and amongst the relentless, often unpleasant, churning. Certain days are bound to be more confounding than others, but as Chapman says: “there’s no chance of giving up, only getting up again.”