“I feel big, you know what I mean? Like, not big in the sense of weight, like, gaining weight or nothin’ like that. Like colossal.”
I guess I can believe it’s been 10 years, especially because the last one has felt so long. Still, Julianna Barwick’s debut feels big, which is all the more impressive considering how little equipment went into its recording. Here, it’s just her multi-tracked vocals and one or two instruments added in.
With hardly any discernible lyrics and a consistent, tried-and-true approach, Barwick’s music can be difficult to write about. Wyndham Wallace of The Quietus admitted as much, writing that “Critics have fallen over themselves to conjure up grand metaphors that encapsulate the experience” of her music. There have been comparisons to Enya, Eno, Cocteau Twins, and any other classic music so often described as “ethereal”. But really, it’s not that deep. Barwick described herself as “a pretty happy, easy-going person who is really excited about life.”
By her own account, Barwick always loved to sing. And so, by simply improvising vocal lines and layering the .wav files in GarageBand, she made her breakthrough album. There’s a good video from the Magic Place era that shows her doing it:
It’s not hard to reason why Barwick has named her albums The Magic Place, Nepenthe (“that which chases away sorrow”), or Healing Is a Miracle. There is peace in her music. “White Flag” was always my favorite, and it’s kind of hard to describe without sounding corny (like the gates of heaven opening?) I will say that early 2011 was not a particularly great time in my life and this was music like I’d never heard before, simultaneously calming and exhilarating. Back then, Asthmatic Kitty wrote that “Bob in Your Gait” “sounds the way humans should treat one another.” In a much more recent interview, Julianna said, “I’ve heard from a lot of people that The Magic Place in particular has gotten a lot of people through some dark times in their life, so I’m really glad for that. That makes me feel really good…” You can add me to that list!
I like everything she’s done, and the extended versions of Healing Is a Miracle from last year really blew me away. But it’s hard for me to find any faults in The Magic Place. Even its sequencing is flawless. “Envelop” starts the record off by doing just that, drawing the listener in. “Flown” is a perfect conclusion, like lying down in bed at the end of a gratifying day. I’ve been a fan since this release and Julianna Barwick’s music is a treasure. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to see her perform live.
Check out The Magic Place on Spotify.