Florine might be one of those records in which you might find it easier to describe how it makes you feel rather than what the music sounds like. In fact, upon further reflection, I’m not sure either would be easy by any stretch of the imagination. The word `angelic’ continues to come to mind when listening to Florine, meant in more than one sense. Sure, angelic as in heavenly, peaceful and gorgeous, but also as in otherworldly and nearly beyond human comprehension.
Brooklyn-based artist Julianna Barwick is perhaps not the unlikeliest of indie stars, or even the weirdest. Hell, Brooklyn is full of both. But, what Barwick does is indeed magical. She uses incredibly sparse instrumentation, so much so that when you hear an instrument, it stands out. Her music instead relies on the interplay of her ethereally looped and layered vocals. As such, Barwick’s music hovers somewhere between realms. It straddles the divide between physical and spiritual, between technological and natural, between life and afterlife.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the opening track, appropriately titled, “Sunlight, Heaven.” The song gives you the overwhelming feeling that you are floating, somehow not of this earth. Voices, all Barwick’s, weave together into transcendent choruses, while others seem beyond the range of human possibility. Words begin to coalesce; yet they are indecipherable, as if we are simply meant not to know, or even comprehend, these messages from beyond. By the time “Cloudbank” rolls around, you find it difficult to keep yourself from weeping.
Words do begin to become comprehensible on “The Highest,” another religious invocation, that at times recalls African chanting, and at others can remind us of Animal Collective. The repeated phrase, “anyway you choose,” in the song “Choose,” is particularly evocative of Panda Bear’s latest solo work. Pianos and synths underscore “Anjos,” quite possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I am starting to wonder if this is how people felt upon first hearing Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. Either way, I feel like the music of Julianna Barwick is the closest any of us will ever get to touching the face of God.
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