Of all the shoe-gaze, ambient, New Age and blooming, cavernous dream pop that I have heard, none seems truer to the spirit of pure chant than the music of Julianna Barwick. None makes fewer concessions to the pop side of dream pop. Barwick’s 2011 release, the somewhat no-duh-titled The Magic Place, builds its own reverberant, sacred space and dwells there throughout nine layered, still-life-with-motion compositions. It is hard to come out the other end of the trance without a healthy respect for Barwick’s dreamweaving virtuosity.
While they are densely polyphonic and contrapuntal, Barwick’s vocal mandalas often evoke a kind of electro-Gregorianism in their melodic movement. Her pattern-driven pieces usually derive from basic pentatonic and Ionian scales, but they spiral in and in – a concentrated, deepening complexity born of elemental simplicity.
Unless you assume a subliminal delivery of meaning in half-heard words, sense is not the primary purpose of language in Barwick’s songs. Rather, language is used for its properties of timbral morph, for the way words lend gradual changes in color to her vocalic elongations, the way word-shapes measure and parse her melodies.
One of the quietly astonishing aspects of Barwick’s music is its management of rhythm, pulse and motion, simultaneously stationary and kaleidoscopic. Her language – faux Latin or whatever it is – is a key part of this internal clocking. And the obscurity of it only reinforces the music’s dusty Old World luminosity.
Barwick’s newest full-length, Nepenthe, was recorded in Iceland with Sigur Ros producer Alex Somers at the helm, and is scheduled for an August 20 release. The advance track “Forever” suggests that Somers has helped Barwick locate more and deeper layers in her sound, as well as a more urgent sense of narrative purpose.
Before commencing an international tour in August, Julianna Barwick makes a stop at BSP in Kingston on Sunday, July 14, paired with the Hudson Valley’s own virtuoso of layered dream pop, Shana Falana (performing solo), and the great Brian Dewan, the anachronistic songwriter and Blue Man Group composer, an eccentric of an entirely different order [see John’s previous Almanac Weekly piece on Dewan at https://bit.ly/KiSNo8].
Julianna Barwick, Brian Dewan, Shana Falana, Sunday, July 14, 8 p.m., $8/advance, $10/door, 18+, BSP Lounge 323 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 481-5158, https://bsplounge.com.