Artist: Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick is a Brooklyn singer who makes hypnotic, beautiful music that's probably unlike anything you've heard.  Her songs are almost entirely acapella, meaning only vocals, no other instrumentation, and the only voice is her own.  Using a loop pedal and other effects, Barwick layers her beautiful and rangy voice on top of itself again and again, making massive sound compositions that build and build.

Her songs are a strange meeting point of electronic and church gospel music.  They sound like they feature a church choir of thousands singing in a cathedral that reaches to the sky; yet you know that it is only one person using loops and electronic effects to make a personal statement.  And while this style of music sounds strange and hard to pull off, Barwick manages to make it work better than you might expect.

When I first heard about Barwick a couple months ago, I was skeptical of, but also drawn in by the idea of her music.  I'm always looking for something different to listen to and I couldn't resist checking it out.  So, I got a hold of her 2008 Florine EP and I was really surprised by Barwick's attention to detail with her songs. I can tell that she didn't just record a bunch of harmonies and overdub them like crazy.  Each song sounded toiled over like a classical composition.  Each one was a careful build, and each had a different emotional tone to it.

I was also impressed with how Florine worked as a complete experience.  The first three songs were mournful and somber in tone, each one increasing the emotional intensity a little bit.  Then, a more upbeat track called "Choose", with the vocal line "Anyway you choose" chanted over and over, becoming more meaningful each time.  Then, a piano interlude that used the same kind of layering effects on the instrument rather than Barwick's voice.  And finally, the positive, near-transcendent "Bode" to close the EP out.

Barwick's songs are very reminiscent of old hymns that many have been singing in church all their lives, so it's no surprise that that was her main inspiration for making this music.

"I grew up going to church like three times a week, and it was set up where you couldn't use any instruments. Everyone was just singing; it was all acappella, a little clapping here and there-- I loved the sound of that. Hymns have this mournful, emotional feel that can still bring tears to my eyes," Barwick said in a 2009 interview with Pitchfork.

Barwick's debut EP gained a lot of critical acclaim in 2008 for just being an EP, and now her debut album The Magic Place is dropping today, Feb. 22, via Sufjan Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty (best label name, or worst?).  There's been some steady buzz building up to this album, which according to Barwick has more instrumentation but still focuses mostly on her looped vocals.  She's already released the title track to the album, and I'm sure more tracks will be available soon.

I'm really looking forward to this album based on what I've heard from "The Magic Place" track.  It sounds like Barwick has expanded her sound even more, and the production sounds a lot better.

Barwick's music definitely isn't for everyday listening.  It's for watching the sunrise from a balcony and feeling like a whole new person, or something like that.  It's the kind of music you sit down and listen to and just let it overtake you.

But, if you like ambient, avant-garde, gospel, possibly even techno, or Bon Iver you should definitely give her beautiful songs a listen to.  And you can do so below, check out her newest song "The Magic Place" along with some of the best tracks from the Florine EP.


"The Magic Place"






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