Saturday, August 24, 2013

Turning the grottiest clubs into cathedrals

Hearing angels? Want to? Got a high tolerance for songs that remind you of Enya?

My review of the ethereal, atmospheric music of Julianna Barwick (which I quite liked, Enya crack aside) ran last week at Blurt.

Dead Oceans

Julianna Barwick turns the grottiest clubs into cathedrals, with her weightless washes of indefinite tone, her spectrally altered choral elements, her slow moving angelic ecstasies. She fills the darkest spaces with pure white light. Nepenthe, her third full-length, she works and reworks a downward cascade of notes, in massed vocals that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere. It’s a motif that first floats by during “The Harbinger,” but which repeats later the album (in “Labyrinthine”, for instance),” falling endlessly in a suspended grace.

Nepenthe, in mythological terms, is an elixir for forgetting, but Barwick’s work seems to turn more on memory, the textures she employs evoking church music, children’s choirs and the gauzy scrims of daydreams. There are recognizable elements – piano, cello and violin, for instance – but seen only through the fog of more idealized sounds. In “Look Into Your Own Mind” a sustained, clarinet-like sound pierces the silence for nearly a minute, picking up friction with the throb of low cello. There’s an aura of the celestial, not just time-less but outside of time itself, in many of these tracks, as they blossom and fade without reference to meter or melodic development.


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