Release Date: May 6, 2016
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For someone who makes the kind of ambient music Julianna Barwick makes, the Brooklyn-via-Missouri songwriter/composer probably didn't expect to have the type of year she experienced in 2013. After finding considerable acclaim for her last LP, Nepenthe, Barwick was invited to play piano with Yoko Ono, performed at the Tibetan House concert with the Flaming Lips and Philip Glass and even had a craft beer released in her name, all while touring the world. With all eyes watching, it makes sense that Barwick's third LP reflect these years of experience, and on Will, she has crafted something even more confident, tangible and overall, moving.
“Hypnotic” is often used to praise the work of ambient artists, but it can also describe music that drifts out of focus. This isn't lost on Julianna Barwick, who's said the trickiest part of writing is editing her 20-minute loops of voice and spare instrumentation into cohesive songs, and on Will she strips her sound to its most necessary components. This is an album of rhythm, restraint, and rough edges.
Barwick has long been one of the brightest experimental composers, and Will is a testament to her intensely impressive ability to fuse minimalist composition with a maximalist, cinematic outlook. Three albums and a host of collaborations, EPs and singles in and it's still impossible to place Julianna Barwick in the modern scene, experimental or otherwise - while minimalism is making a somewhat unexpected rise at the moment, the ethereal vocal loops and new age techniques employed here and on previous work still seem somewhat out of sync with the world at large. Fundamentally, Barwick makes new age meditative music that, while it shares hallmarks with the rosters of Erased Tapes or Constellation, it steadfastly refuses to fall into any of the trappings of genre or modern style.
The voice may be the original instrument, as the groundbreaking experimental singer Joan La Barbara put it, but in Julianna Barwick's music, the voice itself isn't necessarily a point of origin. Layering and looping her often-wordless singing into hypnotic and otherworldly configurations, she enters her songs as though slipping into a stream. The music, she seems to say, precedes us, and it will outlast us; we don't so much carry songs as allow ourselves to be carried along by them, swept up in their current for a little while.
Notes to a variation on Florine Will: like waiting or precipitation, like power or intention, like promise. Will is so good.. If Nepenthe is to be believed, the magic place is a kind of forgetting place, which I can’t help but feel and believe halfway. It was ornate, remote; Will is sparse, local ….
In recent years, the likes of Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, Motion Sickness Of Time Travel and Grouper have used amorphous sound designs and the sheer timbre of their voice to forge a kind of dizzying, hymnal ambient music. Also among those artists is Julianna Barwick, whose sparse choral music sounds earthier than the others', with an almost religious sense of presence and contemplation. Songs resound with their echo and uncluttered compositions, Barwick's voice ringing out until it's impossible to understand except as a symbolic, lyrical language.Barwick's third album, Will, makes minor changes to her approach, like the addition of synthesizer.
When I spoke to Julianna Barwick after the release of 2013’s stunning Nepenthe, she told me that she wasn’t really into repetition in and of itself. It was just a necessary side-effect of looping her voice enough to create the rich texture of harmony and sound she was going for. This record – the equally accomplished Will – contradicts her point a bit.
2016 marks the 10-year anniversary of the release of Julianna Barwick‘s first album, Sanguine. and it’s impressive to see just how much her sound has subtly evolved over the decade. Sanguine consisted of snippets of short, loop-based, mostly untitled songs, while new album Will sees her ‘go digital’ and unveil a new sound involving synths, string sections and even, in a couple of instances, some actual lyrics.
Prior to Will, Julianna Barwick's albums each had a singular sense of place reflecting where they were made, whether it was her own bedroom or a converted swimming pool in Iceland. However, Barwick recorded her fourth album in several distinct locales: Upstate New York, Asheville, North Carolina's Moog Factory, and Lisbon, Portugal, where the piano she played on songs like "Beached" was the same one she used on The Magic Place, and originally belonged to her early champion Sufjan Stevens. This globe-trotting genesis makes Will more varied than any of her previous work.
Julianna Barwick’s music has never seemed tethered to a specific place, so it’s funny that the celestial Brooklyn artist’s 2011 debut was actually titled The Magic Place, an exceptionally bright nü-age composition that’s greatest asset was its ability to transcend whatever space and time you were currently occupying. Her lovely, intangible sound — featuring Barwick’s aerial, often wordless vocal layerings evaporating into the humidity of the slo-motion soundscapes surrounding them — always feels like it’s hovering just about eight inches off the ground, inviting you to levitate with it. And 2013’s Nepenthe, a sweeping, more ambitious take on the ideas presented on Place, cemented Barwick’s reputation as a terribly unique artist, and one capable of making the simplest sounds feel truly transportive.
The latest from the Brooklyn-based composer offers further fascination for those hypnotised by the ambient soundscapes of 2013's breakthrough Nepenthe. Barwick has spoken of her desire to flesh out her instrumentation this time around but the encroachment of synthesised sounds is a reassuringly underplayed tweak of her methodology. As such, the closing See, Know, crafted around a pulsing synth figure and building to a crashing euphoria, helps distinguish Will from Barwick's earlier work.
Julianna Barwick has occupied a unique space in music since her breakthrough, 2011's The Magic Place. She makes music that isn't quite electronic, because it's too organic; isn't quite instrumental, since it features voice; and isn't quite ambient, since her music isn't all drones and tones. Barwick's music is unmistakably hers—while she started as "the singer who loops her voice over and over," she's expanded on that palette to stunning results.
Ambient music is a genre that’s often critically praised but fails to smoothly translate to audiences. On her third record, Will, American musician-composer Juliana Barwick skillfully crafts a record that is equal parts intellectual and emotional. Barwick, who hails from Louisiana and got her early musical training in a rural church choir, has always had a phenomenal gift for manipulating and layering her voice.
Review Summary: Vague beautyIn the midst of life’s agitations, it’s refreshing to escape from distinct melodies and structured choruses into a release that’s shrouded in a delightfully hazy fog. Will is one of those albums where the songs bleed together, morphing into what feels like a vaguely cohesive whole rather than a set of individual tracks. Solo ambient artist, Julianna Barwick, is certainly no stranger to dream-like soundscapes, and her latest is both fuzzy and gorgeous in equal doses.
Will, the third solo album from Julianna Barwick, should be experienced rather than heard. Evocative and turbulent, the mostly buoyant compositions seek the freedom to extend beyond a moment or locale. A faintly sketched canvas, listeners can color their own emotions to Will. The cavernous quality of Barwick’s reverberating vocal loops belong to chapels and domed cathedrals rather than abandoned houses and railway trestles where various recordings were conducted.
However avant-garde her music, Julianna Barwick is one of those rare artists that managed, even in her underground days, to never lose sight of a pop sensibility. Records formed of sparse instrumentation and achingly emotive vocal loops still had clear hooks, dynamic shifts and a narrative arc that made them uniquely accessible, even if they were perhaps still not mainstream-compatible. Fast forward several years, and we find ‘Will’, her first record since 2013’s ‘Nepenthe’ both taking her music further into more straightforward terrain while remaining doggedly, indelibly weird.
Since emerging with her formal debut in 2011, Julianna Barwick has carved herself a niche as singular as any in indie music. The Magic Place was met with a wonderfully puzzled reaction because there was no predetermined place for it; if it was “choir” music, it was the most solitary choir music ever, and if it was “ambient,” it was the most humanized. Barwick — whose tools of choice notably include prolonged vowel sounds and loops on loops, but rarely instruments or decipherable lyrics — is a calm doodler amongst sculptor songwriters, a musician whose creations are somehow too undeniably striking to be considered completely as “other.
Julianna Barwick — Will (Dead Oceans)If consistency can be a double-edged sword for artists, it’s an especially keen one when your first (or first widely-noticed) work appears to be as fully-formed and, yes, lovely as Julianna Barwick’s early work was. To hear the Florine EP in 2009, an almost impossibly ethereal cloudbank of massed and looped vocals that actually lived up to titles like “Sunlight, Heaven”, was to hear an artist that almost demanded attention to whatever she’d do next and simultaneously seemed to have reached a place so complete and perfectly calibrated than anything to come must feel like either a retread or a retreat. Even given the obvious options for growth at Barwick’s disposal, though, it’s doubtful that any fans seven years ago could have predicted how far Barwick would have come across the three solo LPs she’s produced.
Opposite tendencies can develop in culture at the same time. Look in one direction, and you see complex thought compressed into 140 characters, high-resolution video and audio, the sharpening of the pop-song hook: a process of individuation, definition, concision. Look in another direction, and the waters are rising. A song is a mixtape is an album is a video is a Soundcloud or a YouTube stream; no format seems to have primacy.
The idea of Julianna Barwick “going digital” seemed worrying at first. Her first two albums, The Magic Place and Nepenthe, work in part because of how appealingly organic they sound. Though she layers and processes her voice to no end, these records feel raw, earthy, crafted from leaves and stones. It’s nice to find out on her third album Will that synths are the perfect fit for her choral ambient style.