Julianna Barwick: Will

Lose your way in bliss

- These days when I listen to Julianna Barwick I kinda look over my shoulder, to see if anybody’s looking at me with a raised eyebrow. It's similar to how I feel listening to Dead Can Dance. This is music that is so effortlessly embracing: the bliss will just swallow you, you almost don’t have a choice in the matter. So, why would you think twice about it?

It’s because it might be too easy. Barwick is, nominally, an ambient artist, despite the vocals and array of other instruments you wouldn’t find in a lot of ambient music these days. She is also only a step or two away from new age, chillout or even elevator music.

Nobody -not even Vangelis- wants to be called that and, really, Julianna Barwick is a confusing array of things, things which make her unique even as they increase her potential for producing wallpaper music. Take her DIY quality. Barwick started as a bedroom artist, looping her voice endlessly and smothering it in reverb. She’s come a long way since her earliest experiments, met a lot of people and learned a lot of things, but you can still hear the origins of her sound on Will. This is simple, spacious music. Basic melodic patterns are looped and then layered, song after song. It’s actually a lot like the method employed by Phillip Glass, though Barwick isn’t copying Glass and, to her credit, she doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of the guy, unlike nearly all indie imitators of minimalist sounds. Then again, one of the biggest criticisms levelled at Glass is the sleep inducing boredom of his endlessly repetitive style.

On her last full-length, Nepenthe, Barwick teamed up with Sigur Rós’ Alex Somers and folded a lot of new elements into her style: studio production, string quartets, post-rock crescendos and songs with lyrics. On Will she’s gone back to self-production but she’s retained a lot of the stylistic innovations: strings here, duets there. Not all, one of the most obvious divergences is the move away from those huge post-rock trajectories and back towards the simple, incremental layering of sounds.

I could have done with more complexity rather than less, something to make the bliss seem more like an artistic endeavour and less like self-medication, but I already know that most fans are embracing Will with a great deal of enthusiasm; and why not? There’s a great deal to like. I just get the feeling that there could be even more to like. Something beyond unadulterated bliss.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Will
Artist: Julianna Barwick
Record Label: (Dead Oceans)