Barwick’s latest is still welcomingly adventurous but the artist’s slight pivots make for diminishing returns here.
For an artist who’s been heavily characterized by certain aesthetic features of her work — namely, the gentle construction of her songs and overlapping choral vocals — for essentially the length of her career, Julianna Barwick has consistently recontextualized her sound in a number of exciting ways. Her mesmeric second album featured expanded percussion and instrumentation to ground the airiness of its vocals, producing an overall darker tone, while the incorporation of synths and field recordings on 2016’s Will resulted in a sound approaching eeriness. On her latest, Barwick is more collaborative, featuring harpist Mary Lattimore, Icelandic singer Jonsi, and electronic musician Nosaj Thing, and she continues to feature lyrics more and more prominently, making for what is possibly her most conventionally structured record yet.
Her previous three albums are terrific, in part, because they so effortlessly sustain an almost ineffable tenor, the contrasts in the sound driving the compositions forward and ultimately bringing it all about into harmony. Lacking this sort of consistency, Healing is a Miracle only comes alive in fits and starts. “Flowers,” which combines genuine falsetto and artificially pitched-up vocals over a heavy, throbbing synth, is the album’s easy standout, making more traditional sounding songs such as “Wishing Well” and the title track quickly recede from memory by comparison. Elsewhere, opener “Inspirit” and the collaborations with Jonsi and Nosaj Thing echo the brash extremity of “Flowers” in their treatment of spirited melodies with drone and borderline harsh effects. The musician’s latest is a difficult record to describe, like all of her others and, indeed, in the way of all unique pursuits — which is actually quite remarkable for an artist whose sound can so easily and lazily be pigeonholed as ethereal. But ultimately, despite the momentary highs, Barwick’s considerable adventurousness here simply doesn’t gel into as revelatory of a result as it has in the past.
Published as part of Ledger Line | Q3 2020 Issue — Part 2.