Review Summary: why I love "White Flag"The Magic Place
does little to take back Julianna Barwick’s sound as it was on Sanguine
- it’s still very much a story told by her voice- but here it sounds closer to us and in a way, more serious. It’s easy to see a criticism of The Magic Place
will be that it seems out of Barwick’s control most of the time, or that she lets her choral work drone beyond its end, but really, it's the first of her records to lay down markers. That’s to do no disrespect to the beauty of Sanguine
, a record that reflected the strengths in her (reverb-drenched) a’capella, but a record as endless as that became less about giving her ideas space and more about using all of them- “Scary Cat,” a freak out worthy of Animal Collective, came out of no where and took away what was so powerful about hearing this voice. This time around, however, Barwick’s music always hits
. “White Flag,” the records centrepiece, not only feels like the highpoint of Barwick’s career in terms of composition and structure, but also benefits emotionally from it; the warm bass tones that shake around her voice add feeling through control. The song becomes bigger with these markers because Barwick is let loose better when her voice has something to react to, and it does- the layered vocals become thicker, more passionate, and this warmth fills your speakers.
That’s something that would’ve escaped her before, perhaps, but as The Magic Place
moves onward, Barwick seems to know where her warmth comes from and never attempts to re-create it. Instead, she lets her voice feel and flow as it so wishes while her newfound ability to construct fills the edges around this ambience. The balance never tips one way or the other, with “Vow,” the instant fallout from “White Flag,” one example. The best of the album is here accepted in “White Flag,” and so her layered vocals continue to act as a focus, descending from the record’s peak with sprinkled piano notes and the continued comfort of that thick bass. And perhaps that’s what’s so recognisable about The Magic Place
, that by making “White Flag” her focus, Barwick has found a professional side, one where a record is created to consciously engage with its listener, building in its heady emotion for its first four tracks and bowing out just as touchingly with its other half. “Vow,” “Bob in Your Gait” and “Prizewinning” all hold their own as pieces, with the latter even exploding before the record’s end, but they share pattern that recognises the gorgeous record Barwick is trying to make around “White Flag,” her cornerstone. The rise and fall of The Magic Place
feels patient and planned.
Still, it feels a little silly to say all this of The Magic Place
when it’s really a record about a voice. It’s Barwick’s most evocative instrument, one that sparkly piano notes can only help fill the room for, and one with which she diminishes too many comparisons to Panda Bear and other leftfield pop musicians. The voice she’s spoken of as being at one with “church music” carries the record, resonating in each layer she adds; at times she’ll puncture with it (“Keep Up The Good Work”) and at others she’ll use it as something anthemic, recognising the beauty her chorus makes in (to say yet more of the record’s masterpiece) “White Flag.” On the record’s final track, “Flown,” she returns to the basics, letting her voice alone carry The Magic Place
to its end. And that about sums up what this record does best: it allows us to celebrate Barwick’s voice from all corners, using its structure and professionalism to keep her greatest instrument doing what it does best. At its loudest and quietest, The Magic Place
uses Barwick’s voice as the great emotional vehicle it is.