Photo: Vera Marmelo

Julianna Barwick: Will

A faintly sketched canvas, listeners can color their own emotions to Will.
Julianna Barwick
Dead Oceans

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. As she did on Nepenthe, Barwick again sought outside musical counsel for Will. Where the former — its crystalline linearity directed by producer Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) and featuring contributions from Icelandic guitarist Róbert Sturla Reynisson (Múm) and string ensemble Amiina — felt frozen in time, the latter’s majestic sweep is due in large part to Dutch cellist Maarten Vos and percussionist Jamie Ingalls (Chairlift), who provide organic instrumentation that often runs counter to Barwick’s synthesized vocals and electronic sequencers.

While Barwick’s meditative hum remains static on “Big Hollow”, the call and response chant of “Wist” projects well beyond its fixed point of origin. Similar expansiveness can be found on “Beached”, its piano and strings progressing the time-lapse nature of her eddying vocals. Soaring like a hawk above the ambient city noise of “St. Apolonia”, Vos provides the needed air to move Barwick out of the frame. Along with Vos and Ingalls, vocalist Thomas Arsenault (Mas Ysa) adds new layers and lines to Barwick’s soundscapes. His voice a clinging texture on the minimalist “Same”, Arsenault is a grounded counterpoint to Barwick’s oscillating phrases on the soul-stirring “Someway”.

In spite of Barwick’s newfound reliance upon synthesizers, the most affecting moment on Will is also its most natural. With only a handful of piano keys, faint strings and vocal effects, nocturne “Heading Home” does what the anachronistic rhythms of the thrumming “Nebula” and bleat of “See, Know” cannot: simultaneously evoke pity and ecstasy. Through pre-programming, Barwick loses the human frailty and imperfection that exists in a world beyond our control. Intended to be performed live, the ambiguous and ethereal compositions of Will should evolve over time — a feat not possible given the finite structure of Barwick’s self-produced recording. Capable of existing in a vacuum, should Barwick serve as programmer rather than performer, the varied shades of Will shall be reduced to a limited palette.

RATING 7 / 10