As more of a dance, electro and indie fan, Julianna Barwick was my first introduction to experimental a cappella music. Her latest release, The Magic Place is something absolutely unreal and of angelic graces reminiscent to a female version of Gregorian chants.
Her nine-track LP provides a sense of celestial magic, and can definitely help you find that certain “magic place,” when in need of release from life’s daily pressures. The entire album has a unique choir-like feel to it that made me flashback to my Catholic school days. It all made better sense after learning that the Louisiana-raised Brooklynite spent a lot of her childhood in a church. Evolving sacred hymns into modern day tunes is what Barwick has done with The Magic Place and its songs, many actually created “on the fly.”
“The Magic Place was a tree on our farm,” Barwick describes about the album’s title. “It was in the back pasture. It was one tree that grew up, down and around. You had to crawl in and once you were inside, it was like there were different rooms, and you could actually lay in the branches. We named it ‘The Magic Place’ because it really was magical, especially for a kid, and that’s how I feel about my life right now—without trying to sound too hippy dippy or cosmic, this year has definitely been a magical one.”
Each song has minimal to no instruments and is heavy on the vocals as they borderline opera-like scales. In a similar style to both Andrew Bird and Owen Pallet, Barwick uses the art of electronic loops and layers to give her project a larger than life feel. Barwick exudes a gorgeous voice full of tender ethereal tones. A very serene, tranquil feeling overtakes you with each song, making it a perfect listen for when you just want to relax.
As more of beat-oriented music fan, my favorite tracks were the ones where Barwick decided to go heavy on the instruments (and when I mean heavy, it’s more like soft piano keys and barely there percussions whereas other tracks are totally vocal-based). “Vow” opens with prominent piano keys that sort of reflect a twinkling sound that blends in with plucked guitar melodies that slowly make their way into the song. The vocals are amazing and are a bit out of this world. It’s hard to imagine what sounds like a choir is really just one woman.
“Prizewinning” is another track that stood out to me because of its soft bass that grows louder and heavier as the song progresses, almost taking over the dominant vocals. It’s very climatic, almost epic, and would would be the perfect score to an intense film.
While Barwick’s The Magic Place isn’t my cup of tea, I can’t deny its beauty nor Barwick’s genuine talent. The album is definitely something to check out if you enjoy wordless harmonies, ambient whispers and ecstatic croons—or in my opinion, want music to mediate to. But if you’re more into upbeat music, The Magic Place just might be the cure to nights where you find yourself having trouble falling asleep.
Words: Kristie Bertucci