Photo courtesy of Derrick Belcham
Julianna Barwick is not a household name. In fact, it’s fairly likely Julianna Barwick will never be a household name. That’s not to say that her music isn’t great or that she doesn’t deserve tons of recognition and appraise. She does. But that’s also not to make the ignorant statement that the typical American family couldn’t appreciate her work because of how “artful” or “difficult” it is.
See, Barwick’s music is enjoyed on a base level. There are no lyrics to turn people on or off. There’s no real form or signature to her sound that is easily hummable or recognizable. From her performance at Eclipse Coffee and Books on Feb. 19, she has a few tattoos, and dresses in shapeless, nonoffensive dresses.
Her music is, first of all, beautiful. Stunningly gorgeous. So ear-pleasingly warm and inviting that the reader will get sick of how many ways the word “pretty” is used in varying similies throughout this review.
Her songs are composed of three key elements: her bell clear voice, a Boss RC-50 sampler and a keyboard. Barwick sings into a microphone connected to the sampler. These hymn like vocal affectations are then looped, and she repeats the process with a different inflection of her voice.
The music Barwick plays is atmospheric in the sense that it hangs heavy in the air with a noticeable presence. Samples of her affected vocals swirl in a mist as piano chords occasionally rise like mountains out of the fog that sonically ground her composition.
On record, Barwick’s music is the soundtrack to whatever wonderfully slow, haunting scene the imagination can conjure in the mind. The first few golden sunbeams that gently light up the room of a dead relative. What a starry night sky could sound like on a late night drive after emerging from a tunnel.
When Barwick performs, she closes her eyes. This most likely helps with concentration; maybe it places her in some sort of “zone” like a lot of other musicians.
A personal theory? It’s a hint for her audience to do the same.
When listening to the performance with eyes open, the ceiling fans of the dining room and small pulsing stage light would seem to mix and blink with the movement of the music.
With eyes closed, Eclipse faded away into something much grander. Valleys and other vast landscapes were often thought of. Other times, a film reel flashback of fond, but sorely missed family moments flickered.
Looking around, there were a lot of people either sitting or standing, having their own private moments with the sound they were personally experiencing. A few looked on with comfortable,but never bored fascination. Others closed their eyes and wrinkled their brows in deep thought.
Barwick appeared happily intoxicated after her final song. She may have been throughout the whole performance. Either way, she stood ready to receive the praises of new fans who shly greeted her at the merch table. Music was bought and often hugs were exchanged in warm, personal thanks for the delightful evening.