A Saturday night performance feels more akin to a ritual than a concert
Synths and cellos slow dance, then tango to dream-pop fables by Montreal storytellers, Syngja. Appearing on stage like apparitions in a dream, their Sept. 15 performance at Brasserie Beaubien feels more akin to a folkloric ritual than a musical act. Watching Týr Jami and Justin Guzzwell is like overhearing a secret you’re not supposed to know about.
Lights of all colours spill into every crevice of the room, alongside images from another time and place. Much of Syngja’s music is inspired by tapes—Jami’s great grandmother would record and send them to family members following her migration from Iceland to Manitoba. Tonight, spinning projections of lang amma (Icelandic for great-grandmother), light the way for Syngja as they time travel through her memory.
The journey begins in a landscape of reverberating sounds, like whispers on a cave wall. Between slow tambourine samples and anxious strings, Jami and Guzzwell seem to be warning the audience of a sinister presence, one which lyrics caution is dangerous “when you lock eyes” and “when you can’t see.” This new song, “Water Spirits,” is more experimental than the pop-beat anthems of Lang Amma, Syngja’s last record, and shapes a vision of what their upcoming releases might be like.
The eerie tambourines soon evaporate, replaced by the popcorn beat from “Surface of the Sea.” Guzzwell’s synths and Jami’s cello entrance the audience while lyricism weaves the tale of “a madman about to find love.” The crowd sways back and forth to the oscillating beat. During the last song, “Palm Reader,” Jami puts down her cello and dances alongside Guzzwell, sometimes bouncing, other times gliding in a sparkling mirage of sequins. Syngja’s musical acts are frequently accompanied by dancing and theatrics, often involving a troupe, but tonight, it is just the duo. Zuzu Knew, mastermind behind the evening’s visuals, is absent, but nevertheless feels present among the many pools of light emanating from the stage.
Having recently returned to Montreal after an artist residency in Iceland, Syngja is preparing for the release of their new album, Echoing Rose (Live in Iceland), on Nov. 3 at The Diving Bell. Their first release since 2016, Jami said Echoing Rose will continue to explore the mythology of lang amma’s memory. Through dreamlike, sonic storytelling, Syngja will once again offer mere mortals an opportunity to travel through time and space.