Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

January 01, 1970

(Asthmatic Kitty)




Every now and then, we need reminding that one of the things
that has made pop music a historically progressive force has been the
adventurous singers constantly trying to do something new and beautiful with
their voices. The doo-wop groups and gospel-trained soul singers are as
important to our music as all the virtuoso hard-rock lead guitarists and
shambolic, messier punk-derived ones. But pop vocals have had some rough years
– debased by Auto-tuning, American Idol-style
histrionics and the phony melodrama of pretentious Emo rock. Yet amid all that
junk, some enterprising, adventurous vocalists have turned to chorale music –
in some cases, layering/looping their voices to effect the sound of multitudes.
Petra Haden did a magnificent job with this on 2005’s Sings The Who Sell Out, which transcended the novelty of the
project and reminded people of what a remarkable instrument the voice can be.


Now, the Brooklyn-based singer Julianna Barwick moves it
another step forward on the aptly named The
Magic Place.
This is her third album, but first for Asthmatic Kitty – one couldn’t think of
a label whose name is more antithetical to Barwick’s sound. Comprised of
(mostly) wordlessly ethereal vocals (virtually a cappella, but embellished with an occasional instrument like a
minimalist piano figure in “Keep Up the Good Work” or a building drum beat in
“Prizewinning”), this shows that the voice is the soul of music. She builds up
and varies her sound by layering vocal segments, creating multipart harmonies,
unison singing, reverberating solos, haunting fades. This isn’t really ambient
– it’s not passive or backgroundish. In a way, it’s its own Wall of Sound.


Barwick says in press materials the “the magic place” was a
tree on the Louisiana
farm where she grew up, and one can sense the draw of such a sanctuary, the
wonderment of it, in this music. In fact, one can actually see it – a testament
to how music, when it doesn’t try to bludgeon listeners into liking it, can
work miracles.


DOWNLOAD: “Envelop,” “Prizewinning” STEVEN


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