Julianna Barwick – Will

The stunning Nepenthe, released in 2013, saw Louisiana born singer Julianna Barwick broaden her horizons in more ways than one. It was a more expansive sounding album than anything she had done up until that point and marked a significant departure in the way she wrote and performed music. The process of making music in splendid isolation was abandoned, as Barwick decamped to Iceland to record with Alex Sommers in the Sigur Ros owned studio. Jonsi and Amiina sprinkled a little of that special brand of ethereal Icelandic magic; the result was one of the best albums of the year (reviewed here)

If you could level any criticism at that record, it was that perhaps there was more of Sommers & the Sigur Ros influence than there was of Barwick; all the little familar Sigur Ros sonic tricks were lovingly recreated. As lovely as it was (and it was very, VERY lovely), you get the sense that for someone like Barwick who had maintained so much control over her recorded output up to that point, it may have felt like something had been lost.

New album Will reinforces that view; this is a record of retreat, there is a sense that Barwick has returned to following her own star. The result is an album that is wilfully different to Nepenthe, a stranger, pared back beauty that curiously enough, calls to mind the childhood wonder of Boards of Canada’s ‘Music Has the Right to Children’. Musically, it bears no real relationship to that electronica classic but the fragmented dreamlike mood is eerily similar.

‘St Apolonia’ opens with Barwick’s voice floating untethered, before softly swelling cello and sparse piano notes close in; ‘Nebula’ drifts by in a haze of dreamy looped vocals. The gorgeously fragile ‘Beached’ sounds more than a little like fellow ambient etherealist Grouper. ‘Big Hollow’ is the one song that maintains strong links with the Nepenthe sound but tracks like ‘Wist’ and ‘Someway’ push the boat out, barely there in their beautifully ambient otherness.

The album would be a near perfect follow up to Nepenthe  if it wasn’t for two inclusions that jar, and seem incongruous in this setting. Track four ‘Same’ and particularly closing number ‘See, Know’ draw from a completely different palette of sounds with the latter featuring a strident synth sound that abruptly breaks the spell.

Their inclusion highlights the fact that there are no quick wins on Will; this is Barwick firmly in charge again, and the result is a sometimes bewildering but often intoxicating listen.


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)