Music for your workday: 12 albums to help you focus whether you're in an office or working from home
From Brian Eno's Music For Airports to Khaled Mouzanar's score for the Oscar-nominated Capernaum, here's our favourite work-related playlist
Sometimes it’s hard to focus at the office. There’s too much going on around you and your senses seem to be tuned in to everything else but the work at hand.
Music can help in this situation. Well, certain kinds of music, at least.
If you need a little help to focus and stay int he zone, here are our pick of albums to consider.
Ambient I: Music For Airports (1978)
Brian Eno coined the term "ambient music" when he released Ambient I: Music For Airports in 1978. The term, he said, was meant to describe music that was “as ignorable as it was interesting,”, which would “induce calm and space to think”. It was quite the change of style for the British musician, who was then better known for his pop and glam rock releases.
The album consists of four compositions created by layering tape loops of different lengths. It was designed to be continuously looped and, according to Eno, to “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular”. It is the perfect album if you’re not sure what to play and like soothing background noise as you work. Favourite Track: 1/2
Chinoiseries Pt.3 (2017)
The third instalment of Onra’s Chinese music-sampled hip-hop instrumentals. The French beatmaker – whose real name is Arnaud Antoine Rene Bernard – began his journey of splicing and cutting Chinese samples into rugged grooves in 2006, when he travelled to Vietnam for the first time and brought back more than 30 Chinese and Vietnamese records. He then made a collection of 32 tracks that used samples from these records and released the first Chinoiseries album. The 2017 instalment is arguably the most polished of the three albums and is said to be the conclusion of the series. You’ll be bobbing your head and likely do a little finger drumming on your desk while listening to this one. Favourite Track: Will I See You Again
Solo Piano (1989)
Philip Glass is widely recognised as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. Though his work has been often associated with the minimalism movement, Glass has described his work as "music with repetitive structures".
His 1989 Solo Piano album is partly inspired by Franz Kafka’s 1915 classic The Metamorphosis, with five of the seven tracks on the album named after it. The album is perfect for either active or passive listening, and you’ll be delightfully moved by the lone odd-notes that bloom out of repetitive structures. Favourite track: Metamorphosis Two
Infinite Distances (2019)
Polish composer Olga Wojciechowska’s work drifts between the realms of contemporary classical and electronic music. Her latest album, Infinite Distances, was composed in memory of her grandmother. It is built around a single melody that appears across the backbone of the album. Though it changes in direction and emotion, the album somehow always ends up in the same place and is a masterful development to the ambient genre. Favourite track: Infinite Distances
The sixth album by jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan mixes traditional Armenian folk music with jazz and minimalist approaches. While his 2013 Shadow Theatre album featured an expansive band with choral sections, strings and saxophones, Mockroot is more stripped back. “For me it’s more like an electro-acoustic Armenian rock trio than a regular jazz trio,” Hamasyan previously said of the album. It's ideal if you’re looking for minimal groove to keep you going through the midday slump. Favourite track: Kars 1
When I Get Home (2019)
The fourth album by Solange has been described as everything from "Psychedelic soul" to a "drowsy funk throwdown". It was influenced by the "chopped and screwed" hip-hop remixing technique that originated in Houston, which involves slowing a song down to 60 or 70 beats per minute. In making the record, Solange, who's full name is Solange Knowles and who is famously Beyonce’s sister, was inspired by Steve Reich, Alice Coltrane, Stevie Wonder and Sun Ra, and their use of repetition.
When I Get Home received universal acclaim when it was released in 2019, and was consistently featured as one of the top albums of the year, including on lists by The Guardian, Vice and Time. Like Mockroot, it’s a good way to reinvigorate your day. Favourite track: Stay Flo
Musique Originale De Films (2016)
Ahmed Malek was an Algerian composer, most notable for his soundtrack work. His influences combined Arabic traditions with jazz, psychedelic rock and funk. His first film score was in 1972 for director Mousa Haddad's Les Vacances de l'inspecteur Tahar. It made Malek an instant hit with filmmakers.
The musician went on to compose scores for everything from shorts and documentaries to industrial films, commercials, and comedies. The reissued Musique Originale De Films, which was released in 2016 by Habibi Funk Records, combines some of his finest soundtrack work and puts Malek back in the much-deserved spotlight. You can’t go wrong with this one, especially if you’re looking for some cinematic Arabic funk in the background. Favourite track: Maya
Ibrahim Maalouf’s 11th studio album is perhaps his most sophisticated and polished work yet. Maalouf’s latest album still has his signature blend of Latin American and Arabic influences. As unclassifiable as always, the album is not really jazz, nor is it pop or rock. Not many can play the trumpet like Maalouf can, offering a great emotive (slightly epic) accompaniment to the work day. Favourite track: Radio Magallanes.
Theory of Everything (2014)
The late Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson scored the music for the biographical drama about Stephen Hawking. The soundtrack has Johansson’s signature blend of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, involving layers of live recordings. The score was highly praised and earned Johansson an Academy Award nomination and won him the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. If you’re looking for some uplifting piano with a peppering of electronics, this is the album to go for. Favourite track: Theory Of Everything
Buchla Concerts (1975)
Few are as adept at controlling a modular synthesiser as Suzanne Ciani. Recorded in 1975 and released in 2016, her Buchla Concerts sounds still as fresh and innovative today as it did in the seventies. With melodic pulses and tones, the album has been described as the lost synth manifesto that could have changed the course of electronic music history had it seen the light of day sooner. A little bit ambient, a little bit futuristic, the album is great to give a sense of expanse if you’re feeling claustrophobic. Favourite track: Concert at Phil Niblock’s Loft.
Yes, this is the soundtrack to Nadine Labaki’s 2018 drama that put her in the running for an Academy Award. With textures of regional instruments and melancholic strings, the score by Khaled Mouzanar (who is Labaki’s husband) is as sharp and emotional as the film. Favourite track: Zeyn Working
At The Dam (2016)
The title of Mary Lattimore’s third album is taken from a Joan Didion essay in her The White Album collection. The American musician travelled around the country with her 47-string harp and a Volvo station wagon. At the Dam is the album she wrote on the journey. It was entirely improvised at first and written in fragments. And, honestly, there’s always room in the day for some unwinding harp music. Favourite track: Otis Walks Into The Woods
Updated: March 12, 2020 12:16 PM