Juliana Barwick‘s The Magic Place was our Album of the Decade, so we were extremely excited to hear that she would be releasing a new album in 2020. Barwick’s music has always suggested healing, but on this set the association is front-and-center. The entire world is in need of healing right now, and the LP could not have arrived at a better time. Inspired by her wonder at the human body’s capacity to repair itself, Barwick gathered some like-minded friends to record a series of grateful, peace-filled pieces; the result is a celebration of hope.
We included the opening track, “Inspirit,” in our article, “Ten Tracks That Sound Like Summer.” There’s a bit of the siren in Barwick’s voice, and the video’s images of open sea encourage the connection. As Barwick walks and occasionally runs the shore of Iceland, the camera follows from above. The phrase “from above” is forever linked with Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s essays and aerial photography, all meant to increase environmental awareness ~ something we’re certain Barwick and her Icelandic collaborator Jónsi support.
Two angles dominate the visuals: Barwick looking out at an abundance of natural beauty, and the videographer Joel Kazuo Knoernschild gazing down at Barwick. There’s a metaphor to be found in the second: a bird’s eye view is akin to greater perspective. When we are subsumed by worry and anxiety, we’re temporarily blinded to the passage of time. Injuries heal; pandemics pass; nations find peace. Barwick calls us to thoughtful examination, hoping to center us through sound, to still the disquiet that prevents us from moving forward. “Inspirit” means “to encourage.” A visual glance at the word also implies an inner spirit, the promise of inner peace. When combined with choral layering, organ-like bass and the miracle of the LP title, “inspirit” also suggests the spiritual life. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the first guest is Mary Lattimore, who plays the harp on “Oh Memory.”
The intensely peaceful title track washes over the listener like the cool, cool sea: sonic healing in the form of a lullaby. The healing power of music is its own miracle. When Jónsi enters the picture, the tone turns euphoric, with birds singing and Katie Malia dancing on a variety of terrains. The tempo-driven electronics arrive like an awakening. After this, Barwick guides listeners to an oasis called “Safe.” Maybe we’ll get through this after all. Maybe our trials are only temporary. Is it possible? Barwick makes us believe that it is.
The set’s loudest segment arrives late but passes swiftly at the end of “Flowers,” as if to acknowledge the wound. By the time Nosaj Thing helps to ferry listeners to the land of “Nod,” new skin has already begun to form. The electronic pulses that have been appearing every other track draw the album to an uplifting conclusion. But in the final 45 seconds, it’s only Barwick, filled with awe, singing to us from the other side of the breakers, encouraging us to swim. (Richard Allen)