Album Reviews

Julianna Barwick – Will


In a recent interview with Clash, ambient musician and vocalist Julianna Barwick appeard preoccupied with the difficulty of feeling a sense of “home” anywhere, the challenge in finding a place where one can feel empowered and at ease. Travelling to upstate New York, away from her residence in Brooklyn, to work on her fifth album Will just left her craving civilisation. But Brooklyn’s relentless buzz wasn’t right either, and so the album ended up being finished in North Carolina. What we get in Will then is an album awash with luxurious keys and dizzying vocal loops that attempts to sonically provide that sense of comfort and belonging of home for those who cannot be there physically. Will soothes the mind and somehow, if just for a few moments, makes wherever you are feel like the place you’re meant to be, be that a crowded bus, the mouldy couch in your flat or an isolated spot by the sea.

Album opener ‘St. Apolonia’ is a siren song enticing us into the album, repeated callings of the  word “sea” ebbing across each side of the speaker, blending with the sound of wind, waves and longing strings. Moving from the ocean to outer space then, ‘Nebula’ is five minutes of pulsing, warm, arpeggio synths and an expansive, resonant vocal loop.

‘Beached’ and its quietly rattling piano is reminiscent of works by Clint Mansell while ‘Same’ has a soaring synth backdrop with just a touch of white noise to compliment the album’s most impassioned vocal moment. While these cinematic, bold elements of the album make it stand above releases from musicians less invested in this realm and keep it from ever feeling lethargic, it still manages to maintain that insular, reflective feeling, allowing it to feel far more personal music than ambient music often does.

‘Big Hollow’ and ‘Someway’ are transcendent hymns that, while not the album’s most memorable, contribute to its overall make up and make it all the more a full, satisfying LP to drift away, or further into, your mind with. Closer ‘See, Know’ is where the record meets its exclamation point, the tremendous stretch and sigh at the end of forty minutes deep breathing. Featuring the albums only instance of real percussion and definite bassline, it is an assertive, cathartic bookend that gives the rest of the record greater context on repeated listens, giving it an even further enveloping quality.

When it comes to ambient electronic records such as this one there is always the concern that there will be a compensation for lack of real emotion with sounds that are saccharine and chock with false sentimentality. And granted, if that ethereal, meditative tone is something that frustrates you more than soothes you then this album probably won’t change that. However, if you can allow the waves of Barwick’s vocals and careful composition drift over you then it may soon feel that that crowded bus is an okay place to be, or that that manky couch is actually fairly comfortable when you get into that one right sitting position. When so many of us, like Barwick, are scrambling about trying to find a place to feel comfortable in, in which we feel like we fit, it’s a strange and reassuring sensation when the textured soundscapes like those on Will can bring forth that feeling. Even if it is only temporary. Eoin Murray