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Friday
Apr012011

JULIANNA BARWICK - The Magic Place

As far as album titles go, this is about as perfect and to the point as it gets. Following her debut Sanguine from a couple of years ago and last year’s Florine EP, Brooklyn’s Julianna Barwick has produced the most beguiling album of the year so far with The Magic Place.

With little more than her voice and a cathedral full of reverb, Barwick carefully builds up layer upon layer of mostly wordless vocals that reach high enough levels of intensity to rival the heights reached by that magnificent Pastor T.L. Barrett reissue from last year. Barwick’s transcendence, however, is much closer to European choral music traditions (think Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares without the brain-mulching dissonance) than it is to soul-cleansing American black gospel. She is the anti- (counter-? contra-?) Enya, vocal ambient music that can be as unnerving as it is overwhelming in its beauty. She is much closer aesthetically to Kevin Shields, who achieved a similar effect on My Bloody Valentine’s more repetitive pieces, such as "To Here Knows When" or on the feedback-driven "Glider". And way back in the '60s, David Crosby nailed down a blueprint for Barwick’s sound on "I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here" from his debut If Only I Could Remember My Name, perhaps his most moving piece, a spectral a capella fragment which, until now, has remained unrivalled.

Much of the magic of this album comes from the singer’s knowledge of when to let the reverberations ring out. She never gets Wagnerian with it, allowing the power of her music to come from timbre more than tumult. Compositionally speaking, her works are built around stacked melodies (her live performances are, no doubt, based on loops) rather than shifting harmonies. Most striking is "Keep Up the Good Work", both gorgeous and terrifying as it features her characteristic upper range with a highly vertigo-inducing vocal swoop. Its power is ineffable, something that does not feel created but, like a force of nature, like something that always was.

With only the barest occasional accompaniment on piano and other effects for colouration, Barwick continues to forge her original path, establishing herself as (literally) one of the most original voices on the scene right now.  

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