Journey of ups and downs

Travelling is both escape and self-discovery - being in a state of unfamiliarity can be comforting for some, disconcerting for others.

Brooklyn-based experimental musician Julianna Barwick's new album, Will, is a picaresque song cycle. It begins in a desolate house in wintry upstate New York, moves to the Moog factory in summery Asheville, North Carolina, and an autumn sojourn in Lisbon, Portugal, before returning to Brooklyn.

The album captures the emotional ups and downs, the stress and release inherent in physical dislocation, and is a leap forward from her expanding canvas. Her previous albums range from 2011's The Magic Place (entirely self-produced in her Brooklyn apartment and released on Sufjan Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty) to 2013's Nepenthe (which was recorded in Iceland in an abandoned pool converted into a studio).

Will is driven by an inner propulsion, to get into a state where one's precepts dissolve and you are left with these impressions. But what impressions?

The album begins with St. Apolonia, which melds a recording of trains at Lisbon's Santa Apolonia Station with her meticulously overlapped but barely decipherable vocals. Dolorous piano keys are heard. Perchance those were played on the piano reportedly left behind by Stevens at the age of his last tour in Portugal? Associative connections are made.

Beached swirls around, a gossamer melody with vocals cascading and relooping amid a susurrus of strings, as a softly insistent synth riff floats away eventually.


  • WILL

    Julianna Barwick

    Dead Oceans

    4/5 stars

Her insularity melts away in two duets with Thomas Arsenault from Montreal's Mas Ysa. In a union of voices and kindred spirits, they envelop each other. "Don't believe, just make excuses", he sings in Someway, leaning closer to the mike, before she herself comes in, delivering the same line in a higher register a distance away.

In Heading Home, tentative ivories give way to more forceful playing, as if gaining a new confidence.

The journey ends with the breathtaking See, Know. Disparate happenstances come into sharp focus. Anchored by an endless two-tone synth loop that mimics the inexorable march of time, the song blooms into a celebration of textures. Drums kick into action, the singing more elevated and, for those few transcendental minutes, you exist in the moment, great to be alive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Journey of ups and downs'. Print Edition | Subscribe