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Julianna Barwick The Magic Place Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

An isolating experience, cutting the outside world off entirely.

Mike Diver 2011

An opener so often says so much about the record that’s yet to unfold. Straight Outta Compton: bang, get it. Holidays in the Sun: a steel toecap to the teeth. Julianna Barwick’s second album begins with a song called Envelop. No arguments here, as it does exactly that.

You might not call it a song, as such – it’s a looped vocal drone atop more looped vocals, atop more of the same, the layers building across the first two minutes before another, alien element comes into focus and begins buzzing with no little menace. But it’s a menace kept at arm’s length by the gorgeous foundation laid by this Brooklyn-based artist. Whenever darkness dares to show itself across these nine pieces, there’s always something sparkling to ensure it doesn’t choke the life from any arrangement. Melancholy can weigh heavy in the background, but these atmospheres – equals of Eno’s beautiful ambient passages – are so delicately assembled and so wonderfully blessed by the tiniest subtleties that they convey an intimacy so powerful that listener and record fuse, allowing no space for negativity to fester.

Although words are rarely key to proceedings, there’s no doubt Barwick is a fine singer, and the shapes she creates with voice alone are suitably magic. Intricacies are paramount; grand designs merely a by-product of so much macro-analysis. But while Barwick utilises technology to bring her sonic visions to life – if ever you might experience synaesthesia, colours across the eyes spurred only by sound, it will be to fare like this – it’d be wrong to bracket this as a studious affair. That implies a detachment from the human heart, when The Magic Place is absolutely born of thick, glutinous emotions that are carried for whole lifetimes. The title refers to a tree on the Louisiana farm where Barwick grew up, and this record both conveys the memory of retreat to such surrounds and also seems to delve into the listener’s own past, pulling up all manner of forgotten experiences.

The Magic Place, splendidly, isolates the listener, cuts them off from the world around them. It does – pardon the cliché – exactly what is promised on the tin by that first track: it envelops, entirely. So if it’s a little disconnect from hullabaloo that you’re needing, slide into Barwick’s sublime soundworld and immerse yourself for the duration. It’s unlikely you’ll want to come up for air the whole time. And if anyone mentions Enya while this is on, feel free to chastise them with Sex Pistols force.

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