Julianna Barwick’s Pure Will


noun: will; plural noun: wills
1.  the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
“she has an iron will”

synonyms: determination, willpower, strength of character, resolution, resolve, resoluteness, single-mindedness, purposefulness, drive, commitment, dedication, doggedness, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power
“the will to succeed”

It is almost impossible to read about Julianna Barwick without learning about her biggest influence as a musician.  She grew up on a farm in Louisiana, and it was there that she would venture into her back pasture, climb into the hollow spaces of a massive tree, and sing.  Her voice would reverberate and echo through the different chambers, and as she crawled though the holes and laid in its branches, the tree nurtured her desire to make soothing musical masterpieces.  She calls the tree, “the magic place.”

She also spent a lot of time in church singing in a choir, and it shows.  By looping her own voice on top of itself and layering them over notes of piano and strings, she paints a very pastoral mood.  “Envelop,” the opening track from her major label debut, is a very good example of her style.  It begins with just her voice, which she then records and loops over and over again, slowly magnifying it with simple piano, violin and cello riffs.

Given how stunningly magnificent her first proper album was, Barwick’s sophomore effort was highly anticipated, and resulted in another fantastic project, Nepenthe.  The video of standout “Forever,” gives me chills every time I watch it.  It shows Barwick recording the song in an abandoned swimming pool (which has been transformed into a recording studio) with an all-girls Icelandic choir.  You can see the joy on their faces as they make something awesome.

Admittedly I was not excited when her third album was announced in March.  Barwick’s formula is predictable and I perceived it to be stagnant and without much room for growth.  But when Will was released on May 6, I was proved astoundingly wrong.  It is her best album to date.

Her first and second albums were 44 and 42 minutes respectively, and while her music is gorgeous, its simple nature can grow boring in that time.  Will does not have that fault, and it is the perfect length for Barwick to succinctly display her craft. In 39 minutes she packs a more emotional punch than most other musicians can in twice that time using lyrics.

For example, “Nebula,” the first released single off the album, is perhaps the most stark, somber tune that Barwick has ever written.  Fittingly, the music video is very dark and haunting, and not necessarily a comfortable watch.  What is truly beautiful about it, however, is every time she sings the lights come on.  Voice as light is a sweet yet fleeting notion, because the darkness returns to envelop Barwick as she is forced to release the note and draw breath.

“Nebula” sticks out on Will a little like a sore thumb–it is bizarrely out of character.  Among the synonyms for “will” is single-mindedness, the only relatively negative idea surrounding the word.  Barwick knows that her style can at times be dull, repetitive and unbecoming of most moods, but her dedication to her art is largely positive.  While she may be stubbornly making music that can be perceived as monotonous, the end result is a testament to her willpower and strength.

The following 31 minutes after “Nebula” are symbolic of this, most especially the final song, “See, Know.”  The album closer plays like a victory lap, like a resounding emergence of light.  Even though Barwick’s voice takes a backseat, the driving synths and percussion give the song a triumphant nature.  It is the first Julianna Barwick song to include drums and cymbals, which contributes greatly to this feeling of accomplishment.

In order to understand the magnitude of this album, it is helpful to remember the magic place.  The tree must be very old and wise, and did not grow in haste.  Julianna Barwick did not arrive at this point quickly either, and her slow, deliberate growth as an artist has become a tribute to her childhood refuge.  On Will, she shows how powerful her commitment truly is, and by the end of it she is basking in the glory of achieving her goal.  And just like the magic place, she is not done growing.


3 thoughts on “Julianna Barwick’s Pure Will

  1. Por Dios que escribes bien!!. No conozco la música pero la voy a escuchar. Pero estoy segura de que no me gustará tanto como lo bien que tú la describes. Deberías ser un crítico musical!


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