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Julianna Barwick
Healing is a Miracle Brian Coney , July 17th, 2020 08:14

Shards of noise and widescreen oomph conspire to produce fleeting moments of hope on the new Julianna Barwick, finds Brian Coney

In an interview late last year, Louisiana-born musician Julianna Barwick offered up some sound advice. “You need to think of ways to combat the evil and the state of earth wherever you can,” she suggested. “And enjoy life, because life is still really wonderful, it really is.”

Her first album in four years, and her debut on Ninja Tune, Healing Is A Miracle feels like an out-and-out distillation of that line of thought. Inspired, title and all, by how the body heals itself – the so-called ‘miracle’ of the title – it’s a sublime panacea at a time when entertaining anything resembling hope almost feels tempting of reproach.

As is Barwick’s wont, not least on 2016’s Will, the slow crest and fall of Healing Is A Miracle isn’t so much a journey as a full-scale rove far beyond. Like being softly guided by the hand, behind the veil and yonder, opener ‘Inspirit’ has all the widescreen oomph of the THX Deep Note, only stretched to four minutes of swarming ambience. “Open our heart, it's in your head,” Barwick repeatedly incants. Saturated in spacious room reverb, and sat above clement drones à la latter day Stars of the Lid, these seven words, simple yet purposely obscured, double up as a vivid opening canticle.

Recorded in the wake of a move from New York, where she had lived for sixteen years, to Los Angeles, Healing is a Miracle is easily Barwick's most intimate – and intentioned – foray in years. Having said that her move to the West Coast was informed by a need for a place that “inspired joy and delight again,” Barwick’s fourth album feels like a transliteration of one person reconnecting to the source. “It was emotional,” she said, “because I was recording music that was just from the heart, that wasn’t for an ‘assignment’ or project. It brought me to tears a little.”

The sentiment is nigh on touchable. Nearly yogic, driven by a breathy, open-hearted wax and wane, ‘Safe’ and ‘Flowers’, with its shuddering, low-end surge, are but two highlights here. As elsewhere, looped vocals and balmy synth shapes become as one, equal parts pure clarity and moony obfuscation. But despite its openly personal provenance, some of the very best moments here are unions with old friends. Featuring Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós, ‘In Light’ is an outright peak. Evolving from shards of noise to a sweeping meld of machines and sounds of nature, it feels like Julianna Barwick in full bloom. And while ‘Oh, Memory’, boasting experimental harpist Mary Lattimore in her element, lands a gossamer punch; closer ‘Nod’ makes for a fitting benediction. Alongside Jason Chung (aka Los Angeles-based electronic producer Nosaj Thing), Barwick delivers a quintessential Ninja Tune cut, all slo-mo, splintered beats and backwashed vocal refrains.

Emerging from its spell to discover Healing Is A Miracle clocks in at just over thirty minutes long legitimately feels like sleight of hand. Time isn’t simply suspended – it’s bent and widened beyond recognition. Like trying to retrieve the last fading figures of a dream upon waking, these are sounds, prepared and presented as songs, of a realm just out-of-reach. But it’s to the here-and-now – back in full view of the veil – that Barwick seems to want to lure us to. With the right perspective to help foster it, it’s there where one can truly feel hope again.