Jean-Michel Blais – Dans ma main (Arts and Crafts)
Jonas Bonnetta – All This Here (independent)
Peppermoth – Glimmer (Six Degrees)
Where were these records in the deep, dark winter, when we needed them? These three new releases form an ambient trifecta of calming musical therapy, each of them elevating a musical genre that’s been diluted by too many sparse piano records underscored by lapping waves.
Jean-Michel Blais is a Montreal pianist whose debut album topped classical charts with his original compositions and minimalist approach. On Dans ma mains, he expands his sonic palette to include electronic textures and occasional drum machines—a far cry from the sound of one man alone in his apartment, which is what comprised the debut. The change is more than welcome: Blais is no one-trick pony, and elements of Tim Hecker and Sigur Ros work seamlessly with his natural talent. The only time the album stumbles is when he ventures into Moby territory on tracks like “Igloo,” which are fortunate outliers on an otherwise consistently pleasing album—one that you’re likely to hear soundtracking tear-jerking moments on screen in the next couple of years, but works just fine on its own.
Jonas Bonnetta usually performs as Evening Hymns, a project features many quiet, beautiful moments, albeit rooted in the indie rock singer-songwriter mode. On this album under his own name, Bonnetta fleshes out sketches he composed for a documentary about Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, where he also made this music. It’s suitably evocative, in part because many tracks are based on field recordings made on the island, which Bonnetta used as a “spirit guide” to the music he made in a saltbox house while reading Michael Crummey’s poetry and R. Murray Schafer’s book The Tuning of the World. Droning strings by former Guelphite Mika Posen (Timber Timbre, Merganzer) were added later, to great effect. Can’t afford to head out to Fogo Island? This album might be the next best thing.
Peppermoth is Guelph’s Andrew McPherson, whose Juno-nominated project Eccodek crosses many cultural borders set to electronic beats. (He’s also put out folkie singer-songwriter records under his own name.) As Peppermoth, McPherson indulges his love of Brian Eno’s work in the ’80s, along with the textural explorations of the 4AD catalogue. If Eccodek is all about sequencing and loops, Peppermoth is performed live on acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, trumpet, upright bass, Tibetan bells), with all manipulations done with tape delays and analog synthesizers. As with the debut, Now You Hear Me, McPherson proves to be a master of this genre: not only for his choice of sounds, textures and the high production values, but for the melodic composition and for creating ambient music that functions equally well as active listening as it does background music. (May 25)
Stream Jean-Michel Blais: “Outsiders,” “Dans ma mains,” “Blind”
Stream Jonas Bonnetta: “Fogo,” “Island Harbour,” “Joe Batt’s Arm”
Stream Peppermoth: “Whirlpool,” “Follow Me,” “Abyss”