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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place: A

A part of me wants to hate The Magic Place, because it’s clear that it’s an album that did not take much thought to make. All its songs are ambient textures of female voices, drenched in reverb, repeating, interrupting and falling over each other. It’s an album that I would consider quite lazy, because anyone with a decent singing voice could have made it and perhaps with just as much success. However, Barwick’s arrangements on The Magic Place are vast, spacious and beautiful, no matter how generic they might ostensibly sound.

The Magic Place does not change from song to song. The countless forms of Barwick’s voice, winsome and whispery, drift formlessly through the album with very little variation aside from an occasional change in octave or key. The songs rarely heighten or have any sense of dynamics, and, when they do, they don’t build so much as add. Many songs begin with a piano, but, in the times when it, or any other instrument, is introduced, it is not from an accommodating context or crescendo. The loud chorus in “White Flag,” the standup bass in “Vow” and the hand percussion in “Prizewinning” simply appear in their respective songs. I would say that they serve no purpose, but, and this is one of the many great aspects of The Magic Place, they all work towards an end in that they all make the arrangements sound even more luxurious than they already were. The presence of these parts may have been an afterthought while Barwick was making The Magic Place, but, when they’re there, it is clear that what they are and what they do were slyly calculated for optimal effect.

Barwick’s debut is unique in the genre of ambient, because, where artists like Emeralds and Ohneotrix Point Never use computerized instruments, The Magic Place is almost entirely comprised of organic human voices, and, as a result, it’s the most intimate ambient album I’ve ever heard. The Magic Place’s lyrics are unintelligible and no single voice stays for long, but the album, as a whole, is nothing if not welcoming. As the wisely titled first track would indicate, The Magic Place envelops you from the very first note. It’s homogonous, but in a way that makes it sound like a forty five minute trip through your own subconscious.

In a way, The Magic Place is indulgent, because it makes a job out of pressing that one heart-melting pleasure center we all have to mawkish proportions. Still, it is fantastic at doing what I’ve deduced is the purpose of ambient music, which is to be the lubricant for your mind’s eye, giving you a soundtrack for expanding your thoughts and exploring your memories. The Magic Place is emotionally ambiguous, which means you can listen to it happy, sad, angry, horny, drunk, high or with a hangover and take away a completely different experience (Although I don’t know why you would listen to ambient music drunk or horny… sicko). It can be meaningful or pointless, but The Magic Place is special in that your reaction to it, to a certain extent, is a reflection of yourself.


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