As a complete newcomer to Julianna Barwick’s music, I decided to avoid doing any background research on the Louisiana-born musician. I imagined that I’d be able to approach her latest record, Will, free from expectation.
However, as I began to listen, I realised that I’d subconsciously built up preconceptions about Barwick from the single picture I’d seen of her, stood alone by the sea with her long brown hair blowing in her face. Presumptuously, my mind had conjured up a half-baked idea of some woman playing familiar-sounding songs that might one day end up as the theme to a match.com advert. I was incredibly off the mark.
In reality, Barwick’s music is highly original. Will is comprised of slow-building, ambient soundscapes, often created using synthesisers, short piano sequences and the looping of Barwick’s ethereal voice. The record begins with a short, eerie track which features soft wails layered against the sounds of crashing waves. ‘St. Apolonia’ is well-placed as an album opener as it’s grounded by a gentle rhythm. This allows Barwick to prime the listener for the more unusual tracks that follow.
“Will is comprised of slow-building, ambient soundscapes, often created using synthesisers, short piano sequences and the looping of Barwick’s ethereal voice”
‘Nebula’ is the first single from Will and was released earlier this year. It begins with a fuzzy, oscillating beat, which fades in slowly. It’s extraordinarily soothing: each part of the track rolls so steadily into the next. ‘Nebula’ is a little looser than ‘St. Apolonia’. It’s more visceral, yet it leaves you drifting away with the music into a sort of meditative state.
The crux of the album is track four. By this point, the listener has most likely been lulled into a state of deep relaxation. ‘Same’ is gentle, but uplifting. Elements of the track feel almost healing, even cleansing; it generates a strong sense of serenity, the same way you might feel floating on a cold sea.
“Listening to this sort of loose, relaxed, ambient music is worthwhile and can feel somewhat liberating. It’s a different experience entirely to the sort of music we hear on a regular basis”
The record comes to a fitting resolution with ‘See, Know’. Preceded by the blissful ‘Someway’, this final track is a step-up in pace and is just slightly more bracing than the rest of Will, daring to even includes drums. If the listener has been put into a state of trance by the previous tracks, ‘See Know’ will do well to ease them back to reality.
It goes without saying that this sort of music is only appropriate for specific situations. If you’re looking for a party, Barwick’s not going to deliver. Will isn’t provocative or angry. It doesn’t make you want to dance or break anything. This is the sort of music you could literally fall asleep to. But, after delving deep into the record, I feel like I’ve made a personal discovery. Listening to this sort of loose, relaxed, ambient music is worthwhile and can feel somewhat liberating. It’s a different experience entirely to the sort of music we hear on a regular basis, and it’s valuable to know that the two can coexist.