Julianna Barwick: Will

Scott Wallace
4th May 2016

One of the most common recurring images people experience in dreams is that of their teeth falling out. Immersing yourself in Brooklyn via Louisiana musician Julianna Barwick’s latest dreamscape Will, you are greeted by lapping waves of wavering vocals, like ghostly, anguished wails. The track is named “St. Apolonia” for the martyr who was tortured through the forcible removal of her teeth.

Barwick, who deserves the descriptor of “dreamy” more than arguably any other artist, makes formless miasmas of sound. She creates an impossibly detailed sense of mood and suggestion through little more than her voice and a few instruments that sound as if they’ve wandered in by accident. Stepping back from the surprising earthiness of her 2013 album Nepenthe, on Will she has created possibly her most impressionistic work to date – a fully-realised song cycle in which you can hardly make out a word.

Following on from the aching opening track, first single “Nebula,” is exploratory and evocative. Layers upon layers of Barwick’s enchanting and pure voice are buoyed by a muffled, morphing synth arpeggio, like strings of sunlight and drifting motes of dust – or are they orbiting planets? It entices you into a strange place, at once both familiar and otherworldly. It is weightless music, floating free.

On this record, Barwick forgoes intelligible lyrics and melodies in favour of pure texture. She bends and folds her voice as if toying with any other instrument, and when pianos, synths and strings do appear, they are deployed as helpful undercurrents to the majesty of her beautifully assembled loops and layers. Even for music that is drifting and gaseous, there is a real sense of momentum and development to the record.

Undulating piano ushers in the most optimistic stretches of the album, particularly the duo of “Big Hollow” and “Heading Home,” which resonate with peace and innocence. On the searching pieces “Same” and “Someway,” Montreal electronic musician Mas Ysa joins Barwick with his honeyed tenor, eliciting a tender connection that up to this point has been absent from Barwick’s somewhat inert compositions. Even without hearing what the pair are saying, the way in which their voices combine and swell is eloquent enough expression on its own.

Will is a sun-dappled inner journey from beginning to end. It’s more than just wandering background music, though – it’s meditative in the best possible way. The surprising final track “See, Know,” is mantra-like, combining splashing drums and a locomotive synth cycle that finally gives way to Barwick gently cooing the song's title - just once. Not all dreams end pleasantly, but this one certainly does. Your teeth may have fallen out, but did you really need them?

Will is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday May 6.