In Our Time is an album about the process of cultivating and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of difficult times.
To name an album In Our Time gives it its own pressure, bearing the burden of encapsulating our present moment. Under the moniker AHI (pronounced “eye”), Canadian singer-songwriter Ahkinoah Habah Izarh attempts to do just that with his particular blend of folk and soul. Channeling Tracy Chapman and Marvin Gaye, Izarh offers a refreshingly earnest commentary on life, love and belonging, and he confronts a deeply torn world with resilience. Although some of Izarh’s lyrics risk veering into the realm of platitudes, the emotional grit of his raspy voice, alongside the sympathetic production touches of his music, generate genuine uplift in the face of a dissolving world. As a result, In Our Time is broadly embraceable, an endearing testament to a songwriter’s sincere commitment to optimism.
The opening song, “Breakin’ Ground,” establishes the tenor of the album’s resilience, with his opening lines sung over a rising organ: “I’ve been told I’m worthless/ So much that it gave me purpose/ And I took the creative license/ To believe I’m priceless.” Quickly the song develops a folk bounce, invigorating Izarh’s lyrics with jaunty percussive shakers and a syncopated bassline. As splashes of slide guitar slicken the groove, Izarh reflects on his impoverished beginnings and his ongoing practice of conscious optimism, suggesting that positivity is not a disposition one simply possesses, but rather one that is continuously cultivated in the face of adversity.
With brambly folk guitar and a pulsing four on the floor beat a la Mumford and Sons, “Straight Ahead” furthers this line of thought, before giving way to a selection of songs about inclusion and intimacy. Lead single “Made It Home,” like “Breakin’ Ground,” recognizes the shaping power of meager beginnings, but embraces the types of belonging and connection that such development affords. As poignant strings ring around a warbling arpeggiated guitar, Izarh repeats in the refrain, “We made it home/ We made it home,” with his incantatory rasp beautifully twinned by a soft female falsetto. On “The Architect’s Hand,” Izarh earnestly requests for an intimate connection over the slow skitters of syncopated percussion and straight finger-picked guitar.
Although ideas of breaking ground, looking straight ahead, and making it home certainly risk generalizing sentimental categories of human experience, other songs on the album make it clear that Izarh’s determined optimism and desires for belonging are direct responses to a world riven by social and economic divisions. For example, on the soaring folk anthem “We Want Enough,” Izarh confronts the uneven consequences of unfettered capitalism, expressing democratic solidarity in response to social stratification and material excess.
Title track “In Our Time” goes even further politically, as Izarh grapples with the global surges of strongman populism and its fascist tendencies. The high-energy folk song challenges its listeners to take action: “Whatever happens in our time/ Say you won’t turn back/ Because all the rebels have died out/ But we’re not like the rest.” Confronting a world that pits police against civilians, those in power against those without, Izarh still maintains resilient outlook: “We’ll make it to the horizon/ So pray for the best/ If it happens in our time/ We’ll be the last ones left.”
In addition to Izarh’s earnest lyrics, what solidifies In Our Time as a particularly sound album is its excellent production. It’s an album that does the little things right. Whether it’s the Arcade Fire-esque choral “Whoas” that propel “Straight Ahead” and “We Want Enough,” the shimmering strings that buoy “Breakin’ Ground,” or the light hand-drumming that conjures the mood of “Made It Home,” the warmth of AHI’s sound snugly fits with Izarh’s soulful rasp and lyrical sincerity. Perhaps the best example is the ballad “Just Pray.” The song features a backing guitar that has a trembling swagger befitting the character of the song’s narrative, Izarh’s alcoholic father. Poignant strings emerge, cradling the song’s narrative clarity with emotional depth.
Altogether, In Our Time is an album about the process of cultivating and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of difficult times. Izarh’s crackling croon and his band’s folk flourishes create a world in which resilience and resistance to power not only seem possible – they seem necessary, especially in our time.