Julianna Barwick – “White Flag”

Yesterday I got a chance to listen to Julianna Barwick’s ethereal new record The Magic Place, an album which I saw pop up with strong notices around the internet when it first dropped, and passed on without knowing much about it. What a mistake that was! It’s some of the most beautiful ambient music I’ve heard in a while, constructed almost entirely out of Barwick’s voice. If you’re familiar with Riceboy Sleeps, the ambient project by Jónsi of Sigur Rós and his boyfriend Alex, you probably know “Boy 1904”, easily the best song on that so-so release. Well The Magic Place sounds like a full album of “Boy 1904”-like material, with some sparse instrumentation sprinkled gracefully throughout. It’s some serious cathedral music.

Julianna Barwick – “White Flag”

[audio https://theashtraysays.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/julianna-barwick-the-magic-place-05-white-flag.mp3]

I also want to add that the Pitchfork review of this album is by Mark Richardson, and as such, is excellent. Richardson, if not the best music critic of his generation (seriously), is definitely the best last-paragraph-writer in the game, and also the strongest argument for checking out the bylines when you read a review on the famously hive-minded Pitchfork. I think I’ve said it on this blog before, but he always ties the music he’s reviewing back to the experience of listening to music as a whole, and tries to explain our reasons for enjoying it. He makes his reviews a statement, rather than just a description of an album. Watch him do it at the end of his review of The Magic Place.

“Is something beautiful and ethereal that feels timeless and transcendent enough? What keeps Barwick from being the “indie rock Enya,” which is the phrase that popped into my head when I first heard her music in 2007? It’s not an easy question to answer. I want to say that the encroaching creepiness and human blemishes elevate Barwick’s music above the soothing Calgon bath of new age, but I’m not quite convinced that’s true. I’m also not sure that it matters. Part of it has to do with where we are living now, and how music functions in our lives. Complaints about the one-dimensionality of new age feel less relevant when we have so much music easily at our disposal. The Magic Place is music for a specific constellation of feelings. They are real, many people share them, and this album owns them completely. So while there are few identifiable words here and the titles don’t really register, there’s a hell of a lot being expressed. We may not need Barwick to go deep into darkness or to write words that mean something, because she has tapped a vein of expression that is rich and powerful and affecting and even useful. And for the time being, the vein seems to be hers alone, though we can visit any time we like.”

Damn, Richardson. Teach me your ways.

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~ by toren on July 1, 2011.

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