AMERICAN DJ, rapper, songwriter, and record producer Diplo once likened Julianna Barwick's music to "Care Bears making love." That's a bummer comparison.
Barwick's music is wordlessly evocative—it makes you sorry for not knowing how to express the emotions it inspires. By patiently looping and layering subtle, silky layers of keys, ambient noise, and indecipherable vocals, her soft sound demands a careful listen.
The Louisiana-born experimental musician now lives in Brooklyn, a place teeming with talent that she calls "incredible... you're just motivated by everyone making whatever they do happen here." Surrounded by so many creators, Barwick says, "I've had the opportunity to collaborate with very, very different artists... it's kind of like a treasure chest."
While her songs rarely include intelligible lyrics, singing is fundamental to their creation. Barwick had a "relaxed musical upbringing," but notes, "I always had music going in one ear. I was in choir, I took voice lessons." She went to church growing up, where, she remembers, "the congregation all sang together three times a week." Although she didn't aspire to become a professional musician until later, Barwick says, "I was singing all the time and making up little songs as I did my kid stuff."
Right now she's on tour with one of her favorite musicians, Mas Ysa. "The shows are going to be really, really fun," she says, but adapting seamless sonic constructions to a live show can be difficult. "It's not really intuitive," she says. "I have to go back through and listen to things and figure out how to perform them live without it taking 10 minutes to get all of the harmonies and layers together."
Through often-unclear lyrics, Barwick neither tells you how to feel nor verbally illustrates how she feels—but her vocals are an integral part of her compositions. Her choral background manifests itself in her songs, many of which sound ritualistic and fit for religious ceremonies. The songs' production would have you believe they were recorded in a large cathedral, but somehow they're even more expansive. 2013's Nepenthe, recorded in Iceland, is interwoven with the country's vivid, open landscape.
Unlike Nepenthe, Barwick's new album, Will, reflects her life on the road. She calls it "a return to my solo, hermit-y style of making music." The single "Same" incorporates more synths, and you can almost make out what she's saying. Will brings Barwick back to her original methods and to a more ominous feeling, but it's not a drastic departure from her previous work.
"There's a lot of dark storminess happening on [Nepenthe]," she says. "I don't think that [Will] is that much of a diversion... I really like it. I wanted to go in a bit of a different direction from everything that led up to Nepenthe and play some more keys, more synths, have more low-end—a little more movement, maybe."