Julianna Barwick - Healing is A Miracle

Devrim Berk Gürakar
July 10, 2020
[ambient, new age]

American composer Julianna Barwick cemented her place in the ambient music scene with the release of her second album The Magic Place almost ten years ago. After incredible albums Sanguine, The Magic Place, Nepenthe, and the mediocre Will, she still finds in this process the wonder she felt at a younger age when she sang in her father's church in Louisiana. Between ambient pop and contemporary music, Arvo Pärt's mysticism resonates in her songs. Healing Is a Miracle is subtly distinguished from previous records thanks to the contribution of collaborators — harpist Mary Lattimore on "Oh Memory", Jónsi of Sigur Rós on "In Light", and Nosaj Thing on the most robust "Nod" with warmer, more carnal, more jovial orchestrations.

Julianna Barwick kicks off Healing is A Miracle with the strongest track on the record. It's called "Inspirit" and sounds like Björk in slow motion. Barwick layers her own voice on top of itself, which becomes a seemingly endless reverb and then merges into a sublime bass melody. It is easily one of the best openers by the American composer to date. "Inspirit" consists of only two elements — voice and bass.This minimalism defines the whole record. Healing Is A Miracle is even more spatial than Barwick's previous albums.

This spaciousness is due in part to the equipment used, she explains: "This was the first time I used studio speakers." In the past, she produced everything with headphones. “The difference was that for the first time I could really feel the music,” Barwick said. “I could feel the bass. It makes a big difference whether you perceive music physically or not."

Healing Is A Miracle is not music that describes the present with commitment. But Barwick is aware of this. My music works without many words. I am not making any clear statements. It's mostly sound and emotions."

"Healing Is a Miracle" and "Safe" immediately respond to your mood. Reflection is the message here. These two songs exude wisdom of life, even though nothing is said or sung. You can discover the lessons yourself, the subtle sounds allowing you to take paths you would otherwise never follow. Her music can also have a therapeutic effect allowing you to truly relax, something only a few artists can do as well.

In “Oh Memory,” “In Light” and “Nod,” you can hear collaborations with the three aforementioned artists. Each track wears the sonic signature of these collaborators on its sleeve. From the sad harp lines of Mary Lattimore to the slightly faster rhythm of Jónsi on “In Light,” the artists’ contributions turn out to be a golden combination between each of these worlds. Of course, the recurring loops of electronic sounds are preserved, or Julianna Barwick wouldn't be herself.

The last tandem on the album consists of “Flowers” ​​and “Wishing Well.” The dark “Flowers” ​​makes us feel like we are in a difficult situation. This song could easily be used in an action or horror movie. Barwick seems to have something for everyone. Although “Flowers” ​​has a darker tint, it works as the perfect intro to “Wishing Well,” giving the impression that heaven and hell are compared. If we can believe the order of the songs, heaven always comes after hell. Or put a little less religiously, after rain comes sunshine.

You can also hear this album as acoustic criticism of the modern age. The music wants to slow down the fast pace of the present a bit, but this deceleration relies on trust, on the listeners staying with them, even though this music drags on so slowly. Those who wait patiently will be rewarded.

Anyone looking for the depth of Barwick's sound mirrored in her lyrics will be disappointed. What she sings about is vague and hard to understand because of the reverberation. Mostly it is about the body and its healing power, concrete and metaphorical.

Healing Is A Miracle is a successful antithesis to the hectic pace of mainstream pop. There is something cathartic about the album — Julianna Barwick reminds us how nice it can be to just take your time. And because the music is so slow, the details of individual sounds appear much more clearly. 

Every sound is a world in itself. The album gives hold in a time that seems as baseless as it has not been for a long time. You will be rewarded if you wait patiently. But is that enough for a good album? Sure, but Healing Is A Miracle can also be described as trivial sound meditations.


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