Review: Julianna Barwick’s ‘Healing Is A Miracle’ Cascades Into An Ocean Of Celestial Light

Julianna Barwick | Healing Is A Miracle | Ninja Tune

Release Date: 10 July, 2020

You cut your hand, it looks pretty bad, and two weeks later it looks like it never happened… That’s kind of amazing, you know?

American musician Julianna Barwick’s innovation when it comes to experimental ambient music is unlike many artists we see today; there’s a very unique skill that comes along with sculpting a sound within the realm of atmospheric soundscapes, a skill Barwick continues to hone. Ambient music is so much more than solely crafting tranquil, calming works as one may associate with the genre; especially with a genre that’s generally quite niche when it comes to the public in general, and the experimentation of such. 

Barwick embarks on a musical traverse that grasps the most intricate of details within each texture she adds to her tracks: journeying through her own personal evolution when it comes to the creation of electronic music in new, refreshing ways that make the artist truly distinctive in her sound. 

With critically acclaimed works, along with artistic installations (such as her Circumstance Synthesis project, which saw her craft an alliance between a library of her personal looped textures, AI and the sounds of nature for Manhattan’s Sister City hotel) the artist’s companionship with her loop station brought her experimental embark into ambient music into focus – by taking her vocalisations and looping them, layered with washes of effects into coherent structures perhaps became on of the most well-known aspects of her compositions and for good reason.

Her latest album ‘Healing Is A Miracle’, released via Ninja Tune comes at just the right time, with Barwick’s beautiful vocals creating an aura that feels like a kind, soft and tender bandage wrapped around the emotional wounds we carry with us daily, and especially with the events currently surrounding us this year. When she began sketching ideas for the album last year, she recalls:

It had been so long since I had done that…making something for myself, just for the love of it… it was emotional, 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

‘Healing Is A Miracle’ brings a striking light with its release that is welcomed with open arms, as Barwick’s outstanding skill shimmers with a beauty that has been difficult to match nowadays. Collaborating with artists such as Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Nosaj Thing and Mary Lattimore.

The first song I remember making with those was the first song on the album, Inspirit. When I added the bass I really felt it in my body, you know, in a way you just wouldn’t with headphones… it was kind of euphoric and fun. I got really excited about making the record in that moment, and I think that really had an impact on the sounds I ended up making.

‘Healing Is A Miracle’ began with a major shift in Barwick’s life, and turned into a creation that is not only a demonstration of her evolution as musician, but a work that is deeply personal – creating transcendental worlds in which we are able to lose ourselves in.

The album opener ‘Inspirit’ glitters with an ethereal aura of religiosity; the extensive range of vocal harmonies incorporated into the track singing tenderly as delicate angelic, gospel choir. It provides a theatrical feel in a very intelligently composed, simplistic manner – as if one is facing a spiritual awakening, no longer overwhelmed by the cumbersome nature attached to the tangible world around us, but rather shimmering with a quiet resolve and loving acceptance in a lush, beautiful and otherworldly soundscape.

As if surrendering to a miracle.

The accompanying music video glides across a breathtaking landscape bathed in a psychedelic dreamlike light; with a singular individual traversing the rocky landscape, embracing the ocean shore. A low, powerful bass makes itself known: while not overbearing in the least, the driven distorted notes rattling one’s ribcage adds to a darker aura when it comes to religiosity, juxtaposing the angelic feel of the harmonies ever so slightly. It feels as though the bass is coming from within oneself, as opposed to the outside influence of the track.

The collaboration tracks on album stand out remarkably, as Barwick’s auditory personality seems to work in perfect tandem with her excellent collaborators: whose own signature styles shine through in a manner that is difficult to portray so wonderfully within collaborative efforts.

In ‘Oh, Memory‘ ft. composer Mary Lattimore, the track overwhelms with waves of of high-pitched vocal harmonies sculpted into a rich soundscape – while the repetition of the melancholic melodies of sunken keys set a tone that cradles a soft, yet kind sadness.

Barwick’s work with producer Nosaj Thing on ‘Nod‘ – the album closer – allows for another example of evolution in her work, along with the clear influence of Nosaj Thing’s personal approach to composition. As an artist who is mainly known for his prowess in chillwave, elements of idyllic, slightly muted but determined beats and calm, honeyed melodies dance with Barwick’s vocals beautifully. Her collaborative effort with Jónsi on ‘In Light‘ is one of the best tracks on the album, which we have previously reviewed here.

One of the individual tracks that is particularly compelling and spellbinding is ‘Flowers‘: while Barwick’s vocal loops provide for a bewitching atmosphere in each of her tracks, in ‘Flowers’ the artist embraces exceptionally high pitched vocal samples, layered over one another with careful consideration of delay. Along with the anxious, yet muted rapid-fire bullet beat, the track is somewhat reminiscent of an artist such as Grimes, which is intriguing in and of itself.

While a major focus is placed on Barwick’s velveteen, reverb-drenched vocals throughout the album; the manner in which she utilises these vocals within her atmospheric textures is a luminous indication of her evolution as a musician – while washed with vocal effects, Barwick treads into new – and sometimes darker – territories with the intricately woven threads of unique minimalist timbres, along with her fellow collaborators to form the final whole: ‘Healing Is A Miracle’ can easily be considered, like many of her other compositions, a work of art.

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Rating: 9 / 10

Feature Image: Julianna Barwick by Jen Medina

Review by Jenna Dreisenstock