For many, this nine-track release will be a first introduction to Julianna Barwick. Her 2007 debut album Sanguine and the follow-up EP Florine were both self-released and, while they received no small amount of praise from the independent music press, the general consensus was that Julianna had yet to find her voice. With this – her first album released on Sufjan Stevens‘ label Asthmatic Kitty – she has done just that.
Julianna Barwick, for those not familiar with her earlier work, deals largely in minimalist, vocal-heavy tracks with sparse piano, strings and percussion, tiptoeing the musical line between ambient and new age. The songs are ostensibly devoid of lyrics, favouring instead the looping of multiple layers of Barwick’s own versatile voice in an ethereal style reminiscent of bands such as Sigur Rós.
The singer states that this album is named for an enormous tree on the Louisiana farm on which she grew up, whose bizarre, seemingly other-wordly dimensions gave the young Barwick the impression it possessed a magical quality. The whole album certainly has an upliftingly supernal quality to it that calls to mind a high-ceilinged place of worship being filled with the gentle clamour of an invisible choir of unseen number.
Whether this album delivers you into a state of blissful euphoria, delivers you into a coma or simply delivers you a headache will, we suspect, very much depend on your mood. It’s more structured than Grouper and more repetitive than the aforementioned Sigur Rós, and is exactly the kind of music you might expect to hear soundtrack a dream sequence or cinematic denouement.
It can be relaxing under the right circumstances, but occasionally you may find the contrasting vocals a little unsettling. In spite of these minor (and subjective) niggles, this is a potent and mesmerizing album as well as a considerable technical achievement for the New York resident, that is more than worthy as a major label debut.
Julianna Barwick is currently on a European and US tour until 26 March 2011.