Julianna Barwick


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Sanguine (2006) , 7/10
Florine (2009), 6.5/10
The Magic Place (2011) , 7.5/10
Will (2016), 6/10
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Louisiana-based Julianna Barwick wove tapestries of looped ethereal vocals on the mini-album Sanguine (2006). The nine untitled vignettes sound like snippets of Enya wed to eerie instrumental and electronic sounds, but the whole is so warped and dilated to evoke something halfway between a female counterpart to David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name and yodeling folk music. Some of them create a symphony of ghostly echoes and galactic lullabies (notably the fourth untitled one, Red Tit Warbler and Sanguine), while others (notably Dancing With Friends) are inspired by childplays and ethnic chants, like a hippie version of Meredith Monk's lieder.

The arrangements were relatively harmless on the first mini-album. The EP Florine (Florid, 2009), instead, added the instrumental dimension; and each of the six songs is significantly longer than any of the debut's songs. Anjos employs the technique of minimalist repetition of simple melodic patterns (of keyboards) to create a deeply spiritual experience. The vocal polyphony of Choose is equally intricate and dense, with murky percussion setting the pace. The lazy litany Sunlight Heaven returns to the ecstatic hippie transcendence, and The Highest builds up until it resembles an Indian hymn, while the haunting spectral multi-layered howl of Cloudbank is almost an abstract remix of Cocteau Twins' vocalist Elizabeth Fraser.

The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty, 2011) is an a-cappella tour de force. The angelic overdubbed chanting of Envelop is the overture for the anthemic, iridescent crescendo of White Flag. The Magic Place emits Enya-like waves of alien breathing, pulsing towards nothingness, an art of reverbs and loops that Cloak sculpts into limping piano figures and Vow embeds in tinkling musical raindrops. Far from being only an ethereal meditation, the album includes moments of simple meandering in the minds of ordinary women, like Keep Up The Good Work that comes through as a remix of voices picked up in a square, or Prizewinning, that marches along as if documenting a journey of sorts. Flown closes the album with the most austere and convent-like atmosphere.
This work represents the moment when psychedelic music loses its psychedelic quality, and avantgarde vocal music becomes ordinary vocal music, and female singer-songwriting becomes abstract soundpainting but still grounded in highly personal experience. The single Pacing (2013) lets a vocal fragment rise and fall with a friendly tide of tiny piano chords and whispered hums. The EP Rosabi (2014) is instead mediocre.

Will (Dead Oceans, 2016) adopted the aesthetic of Pacing: simple and ultra-ethereal constructs with hardly any movement. Sometimes they feel like forest invocations, echoes bouncing around the valley, or the sounds heard by the foetus inside the womb. At worst, the songs are reduced to wall paper, like some new-age music of the 1980s: Beached, Big Hollow, Someway. At best, they are supreme cosmic meditations: St Apolonia, a shower of interlocking syllables and sparse violin and piano chords; and Wist, one of the most complex, an a-cappella Babelic confusion. Unfortunately the bad ones outnumber the good ones. In between there are songs in which very little happens: Nebula, a simple loop of reverbed wordless vocals and organ; Same, in which the melody evolves slowly over a sligthly distorted symphonic fluctuation. There is very little development. The synth arrangements (that replace the chamber arrangements of the past) are not sparse: they are amateurish. When the extremely slow piano elegy Heading Home evolves into a full-fledged hymn, it feels like a revolution. Too many of the "songs" (which are not really sung) sound like an ambient remix of Enya .

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