Where there’s a will, there’s a way. For Julianna Barwick, her will is to create the storm that pushes her while also pushing through the storm as it is being created. The ambient performance of this Missouri-based artist renders phrases null. All she requires is a word or two to create a foggy wall or a wintery blizzard, the likes of which are never too overwhelming or slight. Though her grasp on minimalism is not very tight, the performance given on Will demonstrates that how effects are angled can make even a word impenetrable.
Barwick’s music requires a patient ear. Though lovers of folk musicians can enjoy how blissful the melodies on the record sound, the true reward is to listen to the musical expedition as it slowly builds up. There is nothing maximalist or majestic about the album’s progression. When Barwick succeeds on her journey, she knows that she has only accomplished one venture in the face of hundreds more. To express this variety, she purports instruments like the cello, piano, and an off-putting bit of electronics that bring space into the mix. The only space that does well is the one that is friendly with earthly matters.
Despite this, it is easy to see that Barwick can handle these instrumental expressions well. “Nebula” does build a skyline of space with its stair climb of electronics. Her voice is, however, more fitting within the setting of a chilly cave. The same is apparent in “See Know,” where the artist’s voice is far off in the background while ’70s electronics faze the foreground. Her performance on Will should express the widening of space, not outer space ventures. Such expeditions should either comprise half a record or within the entirety of another album.
Barwick’s ability to alter space to her whim is enjoyable when her instrumentation does not try to come across as minimalist. “St. Apolonia” applies a disjointed approach that works admirably with its calming strings and keys. “Beached” and “Big Hollow” allow the piano to follow Barwick along her journey to the lighter distance. A church can be imagined, which highlights the beauty of imagery with only sound. She does not need to talk of tales of a lighthouse or a chapel. Sights become created with the familiar tones they can contain.
It should be no surprise for the musician to make the best of melodic or tragic notes like she does with her more glorifying sounds. “Heading Home” and “Beached” show off how with intersperses of low notes, audiences can be captivated. Like a journey, there are missteps and downfalls. Barwick acknowledges the musical form of this. So, too, does she show strength in the face of beautiful tracks (“Someway”). Her initially wavering voice can slowly become steady, and in doing so, can push on through the storms she creates.
With only one word, Barwick can envelope a world. The word can be angled to spread all around its listeners or push far away so we reach out. Either way, such things we use every day become pieces of art. To Barwick, they are what get her from point a to the more nebulous point b.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.