It’s raining today, so it’s a good time to stay inside and listen to some music. I’ve been discovering some new music that I like for the first time in… well, a while. They say (who says?) that your ability to discover and appreciate new music goes down as you age, so I suppose that that’s a good sign. I’ve been looking for ambient music that can help me to concentrate on tasks—something that I can tune out, but that has enough of a beat and good harmony that it keeps me going. Something atmospheric—not in the “lounging in a private spa” sense, but in that it creates a good atmosphere for me to get things done. Here’s some of what I’ve found, just because it’s a sharing kind of day.
Tycho, a project led by San Francisco-based musician Scott Hansen, is what I’m listening to right now, particularly the new album Awake. I’ve had it on for the past little while as I smash my keyboard in search new ways of making websites look pretty. Also new to the playlist is Bonobo, or British musician Simon Green, based in Brighton, UK. What I’ve heard from him is more down-tempo and perhaps a little darker than Tycho, yet still rhythmic and very enjoyable. From the other side of the pond (i.e. the Pacific Ocean) hails another recent addition to my collection, DJ Okawari of Shizuoka, Japan, who bills himself as a “representative artist of Japanese jazz hiphop”, a genre fostered by Tokyo-based Seba Jun or Nujabes, whose music has also been doing the rounds on the playlist lately. These last two have a distinct harmony of their own that I would call characteristically Japanese: lighter, brighter and even a little more conducive to introspection, if that makes sense—almost as if you were having an intimate conversation with a trusted friend.
Besides being good work music, I would put all of the above on a travel or road-trip mixtape, or even just rainy-day music to help you chill out on a gloomy, overcast day. They’re definitely all relaxing and ambient, so they fit perfectly into that side of my music collection. Most of them have been active since the late 2000s, so I don’t know if I’m really right to call any of them “new” artists—but new to me is good enough for now.
Can you hear the echoing ring
A century of bells sing to their steeples
We will, on this three-headed hill,
Soon see the gnat become the eagle.
Crowning the city of Montreal is a hill, Mount Royal, with three peaks: Westmount, Colline d’Outremont (or Mount Murray), and Colline de la Croix (also called Mount Royal proper). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá himself gazed out onto to Montreal from atop the highest of these a hundred years ago, having taken the now-defunct Mount Royal Funicular from Fletcher’s Field (Parc Jeanne-Mance) to the East-End Lookout.
Commemorating the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit, The Brothers Farr composed an original song, “Three-Headed Hill”. They performed it with Jacques Proulx on violin in St. James Church, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave one of His talks, on September 5, 2012—one hundred years to the day He gave it. Watch above, or check it out on Youtube. If you like what you hear, give their band a like on Facebook.
For here, one hundred years ago,
A mystery none can fathom
Came and uttered the Name
That can create life from a mound of atoms.
So, just a little note about an upcoming event in Ottawa. Ridiculously talented singer-songwriter MJ Cyr is coming to the Ottawa Bahá’í Centre (211 McArthur Ave, near the Vanier Parkway) to perform her latest devotional album, Canopy, a collection of spiritual writings presented in a variety of musical genres that everyone can enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to invite friends, as attendance is free. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear one of Toronto’s hottest new artists performing in Ottawa!
MJ’s thoughts on Canopy: “All the lyrics have been extracted directly from Writings of the Baha’i Faith. My intention with this record is to find concepts, and ideas, that are universally inspirational to everyone no matter the belief or school of thought. Too often, concepts connected to spirituality or Faith seem so out-of-reach, or taboo. I hope to create something that can show a softer, more tangible side.”
To put a bit of a personal spin on this invitation, I remember hearing MJ something like 15 years ago at a series of provincial youth conferences in Kingston. I would always hang out at the coffeehouse events in the evenings just to hear her sing, nay, belt out her original songs with her piercing, passionate voice, which I always found to be well suited to devotional projects such as we now see in Canopy. While her voice may be somewhat tempered compared to her early days, it still clearly conveys her passion, especially in the album’s heartbeat-backed title track. The strength and clarity of her voice and her deft use of vocal harmony, two of her characteristic musical traits, are present even in the album’s more down-tempo tracks. Most of Canopy is light-hearted and upbeat, which may come as a surprise to those whose concept of devotional music revolves around gregorian chants or ragas. Oh My‘s sing-along vibe and Intone‘s boppy rhythm and instrumental variety would fit nicely on a roadtrip mixtape, while I could listen to Innocent in Heart‘s ambient electronic tones and Destine for them Every Good‘s driving synth-centred pop-rock rhythm all day at work. The Watchman, meanwhile, puts the traditional story of a “heart-surrendered lover” driven by seemingly hostile watchmen towards his heart’s desire to a melodious country beat. Overall, Canopy is an enjoyable, accessible album that should please not only those seeking musical enlightenment, but also those looking for a solid collection of songs that offer a little more than just a catchy tune.
Praise be to Thee, O Lord my God! I beseech Thee by this Revelation whereby darkness hath been turned into light, through which the Frequented Fane hath been built, and the Written Tablet revealed, and the Outspread Roll uncovered, to send down upon me and upon them who are in my company that which will enable us to soar into the heavens of Thy transcendent glory, and will wash us from the stain of such doubts as have hindered the suspicious from entering into the tabernacle of Thy unity.
I am the one, O my Lord, who hath held fast the cord of Thy loving-kindness, and clung to the hem of Thy mercy and favors. Do Thou ordain for me and for my loved ones the good of this world and of the world to come. Supply them, then, with the Hidden Gift Thou didst ordain for the choicest among Thy creatures.
These are, O my Lord, the days in which Thou hast bidden Thy servants to observe the fast. Blessed is he that observeth the fast wholly for Thy sake and with absolute detachment from all things except Thee. Assist me and assist them, O my Lord, to obey Thee and to keep Thy precepts. Thou, verily, hast power to do what Thou choosest.
There is no God but Thee, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. All praise be to God, the Lord of all worlds.