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Fitting Uncomfortably Well – Julianna Barwick’s ‘Will”

Julianna Barwick
Dead Oceans

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Juliana Barwick is a singer who has become known for the ways she experiments with her voice, creating loops and singing over them, all the while using more of her vocals to produce more loops, creating a complex structure that somehow never becomes cacophonous. In 2013, Barwick released an album titled Nepenthe. Literally an ancient potion given to the suffering to allow them to forget their sorrow and pain, it’s easy to see how Barwick’s voice, and specifically her use of it, can achieve the same effect. 2016’s Will, however, shows quite admirably how Barwick can put her pipes to other uses and achieve other effects.

Will unpicks the stitches that Nepenthe might have sewn, with its refusal to go for a calming effect. This isn’t hearing the rain cascading against the windows; this is feeling hard cold water against one’s skin, and while it might veer towards the unusually abrasive, there’s something to be said for harnessing these considerable vocal powers towards an end of addressing the wound, rather than securing the scab.

This isn’t to say that Barwick’s vocals are any less disorientating than they’ve ever been. This time around, though, they throw the listener off-balance in a challenging rather than comforting way, compelling one to grab hold of the music with their psyche and use it to reorient themselves in a new way. This album fits well and uncomfortably into Barwick’s oeuvre, and while it doesn’t see her stretch herself as far as her collaboration with Ikue Mori did a few years ago, it displays the fruits of an artist who’s not content to leave scabs and stitches unexamined. The result is a rewarding listen, from the opening call for help from or praise to “St. Apolonia” with its jarring thud of piano and cello to the completely unexpected uptempo synth-driven album closer “See, Know” which renders Barwick’s vocals secondary.

Album available May 6th, you can buy it here. In the meantime, here’s a touch of Will in the form of “Same,” posted three weeks ago: