Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and Shawn Biggs
Songs are sometimes never given a name. They always start off that way. A work in progress just goes on being called untitled well into its toddler stage, or it takes on a handle like a stray cat, going by Bushy or Jailbird, allusions to physical characteristics such as a fluffy coat of fur or having stripes. They need time to get something that really fits. New York City songwriter and musician/experimentalist extraordinaire Julianna Barwick gives her songs the most identity when she gives them none of the easy traits, when she gives them no accessible identity at all. The first nine songs on her full-length debut, Sanguine, are all unnamed, just untitled down the tracks with numbers for the sticklers who need something to separate them.
There's a title track, a scary cat, an action that involves dancing with buddies and an Audubon Society rumination, likely about some of the birds that flutter around the peach tree grove that she gazes at as she practices and writes. This room, the one that she works in, has to be blindingly bright and warm as a comforter. The air probably smells like hot window and the rays likely give her all of the vitamins she needs, the charge and ambition to make the sounds that she does. It must feel like gold, like airborne gold, the element, pasting to her skin and giving it that cotton touch that it seems to as a hardened, sculpted element on the wrists and necks of aristocrats and women.
This should be enough to keep her clean and fresh, making water for bathing unnecessary. Who knows. The point is that her identity and the identity of her songs don't stand a chance against the personal and still arbitrary declarations that outside effects have on them. She can act, move and proceed, but the songs do all of the performing. She must feel like a little lighthouse for these spectacularly dreamy and living songs of all the wilderness that gets trapped in spirits, like butterflies in next and spiders in pine sap. They're coasting in rhythm with the blood bursts and tremolos, shaking from the chills the same as anything, getting dizzy in salty breezes and hunting her down. What she does for them is she observes, lets them frolic around her glowing orb, gives them three hots and a cot, all of the open range as they want.
Should they want to chatter and roll on for nine minutes and fifteen seconds like the "Untitled" in this set does - evoking choirs of children singing their first real song, religion as you've never felt it before, pre-dawn dew before anyone's had a chance to walk across the lawn an leave dark footprints in the wetness, even before that - as visual time lapse witnessing let's one watch as the beads of dew slowly shake out of the blades of grass, watching them bulb and get pregnant - she says, "That is your right, pretty thing," more of a whisper in its ear, with a massage of its hair.
That song heroically and inexplicably couldn't be anything further from a namable piece of anything. It's a collection of memories and sights and sounds, coming at you backwards and forwards, flashing and cooing. It's the same feeling that one gets when a crystal clear blue sky can be looked straight up at and the mind is encouraged to understand that that is essentially eternity. What you are looking at is forever and endless. It is all there is and yet there is no known end to it. It will knock you out. Barwick uses loops of her own angelic voice and music to flush out the best parts of herself - of all the pretty pieces around her - putting them into a mosaic that favors these forever moments when you might not be on your feet. They are made out of chandeliers and golden coins — wishing wells and real birds in real love.
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Julianna Barwick Official Site