Review Summary: Vague beauty
In the midst of life’s agitations, it’s refreshing to escape from distinct melodies and structured choruses into a release that’s shrouded in a delightfully hazy fog. Will
is one of those albums where the songs bleed together, morphing into what feels like a vaguely cohesive whole rather than a set of individual tracks. Solo ambient artist, Julianna Barwick, is certainly no stranger to dream-like soundscapes, and her latest is both fuzzy and gorgeous in equal doses. Her haunting vocals cut through the cloudy layers, as tranquil piano passages and strings provide the songs with room to breathe.
Among the gloomy, recurrent chants unleashed by Barwick on the ominous ‘Nebula,’ one gets the sense they’re trapped in the depths of a strange dream, unable to escape the artist’s eerie and vast echo. The repetitive cycle of her voice remains brooding throughout the track, effectively reeling the listener into in her compelling aura. As she takes control of her cavernous surroundings on Will
, she’s accompanied by electronic flourishes that thrive on their subtlety around her. Sometimes her mysterious cries are answered with dense synths, whereas cellos and gentle classical influences sneak their way into the background on the more somber cuts. If ‘Nebula’ is the album’s anxious dream, then follow-up ‘Beached’ is the equivalent of waking up with a sense of incredible peace flowing through your veins. With tender piano-work and deeply poignant strings, Barwick shifts the mood of the album into a more comfortable setting that blossoms with an unmistakable sense of serenity. This feeling translates into ‘Same’, which feels like the sound of complete acceptance as warm orchestration floats effortlessly among the optimistic, yet indistinct vocals.
Although Barwick employs various moods on Will
ranging from dreary to incredibly peaceful, the songs seem to flourish on a sense of connection. Even the most downright gorgeous numbers share similar traits with the more intrusive moments. Every track contains some sense of repetition, but Barwick carefully expands upon the familiar building blocks to suit whatever mood she wants to convey. While this method often makes for an enticing and dreamy atmosphere, there are times she stretches her minimalistic approach too far into the realm of redundancy. Closer ‘See, Know’ has a sense of bursting energy, but is too tied down with its strict electronic movements to ever escape from its own limitations. Where Barwick’s music truly shines, then, is when she tears down her restrictive barriers. ‘Heading Home’ has much more room to work with, as it gracefully builds upon quiet piano melodies into a more expansive setting complete with heart-wrenching strings and the gripping echo of Barwick’s voice. Even when she’s relieved of her constraints, her music still has a murky quality to it – never feeling attached to a particular quality or foundation.
As bewildering as Will
can be, the overall lack of structure leaves a large part of the experience up to the imagination. The gorgeous but wandering vocals seem to echo from the confines of a deep cave, always floating in the air with a sense of intrigue. Though it takes a sense of patience to pass through the thick layers, Julianna Barwick’s latest musical exploration is not without its rewards. She makes you work for the payout, but trapped behind the album’s dark facades are instances of indescribable beauty. At times, it’s so intoxicating that you’re momentarily yanked out of reality into an extension of Barwick’s ethereal world. After all, isn’t that what ambient music is all about -- losing yourself?