Julianna Barwick’s continuous set at Oslo in Hackney was mesmeric and, to use a tired but necessary word, achingly beautiful. The Americans’ initials could represent something else entirely, standing for Just Beautiful, perhaps. The intimate London bar, restaurant and club is a popular place, but for just over an hour Julianna took her audience to a kinder world. The building was situated right beside the nearest train station (Oslo grew out of a former railway station), but this untouched place, the music’s shrine, felt a million miles away.
Support came from the equally impressive Tiny Leaves, with quiet, restrained strings playing alongside the keyboard. Broken ambient guitar chords consisting of roots, thirds and fifths were submerged in deep tanks of wet reverb, and as the strings entered they gently and gracefully glided through the air. ‘Everything Is Possible’, a new track, had a thunderous keyboard melody that lit up with its quiet rays of optimism. Their music is quietly cinematic, an open field of memories, evocative of spiritual returning.
Her latest album Will embraces an increased interest in a synth-washed type of electronica thanks to the use of a Moog Mother-32, but her gorgeously smooth harmonies, with a creamy, embalming texture like that of cherry yoghurt, are still the driving force. Those wonderfully blurry notes help to blend in with the swirling, indistinct cries. It’s safe to say that her music has developed and progressed beyond the completely innocent sound of The Magic Place. It’s now far more haunting and earthy, like a heavenly soul which has been dragged to the ground. There was a slightly melancholic feel to some of the songs, like lost lovers separated by time and space, of some underlying tension that hasn’t been properly resolved; there’s beauty in sadness as there is in joy.
She began her largely uninterrupted set with ‘St. Apolonia’. Her angelic vocals were looped multiple times and layered in a thick, damp reverb. She added to them, like angels gathering one by one, until a ghostly choir swam in the air, making it a pretty appropriate sound for the beginning of Advent and the Christmas season. Her harmonies united as they floated in the air – something so pure and so lovely, something that will always remain clean, untainted by anything – and her raised position on the stage was almost a visual representation of where the music had come from. She (the music) was hovering in the air. It didn’t yearn to ascend because it was already up there.
Synths slid down the side of the music like raindrops gathering on a window in ‘Nebula’. The slow tempo produced a series of rainy, jagged notes which slowly bled into one another before crystallizing into sharper, more pronounced shards, each one emitting a cool, ethereal glow that was never far from fading. A body-quaking bass from the impressive sound system helped to push the intent of the track when in hindsight it could have so easily drowned out her voice.
As a blue light swept over the audience, the quieter, more reflective sound of ‘Beached’ came into a soft focus. A violin joined in on her song ‘Forever’, a five-minute wonder where the violin rose higher and higher, washed in the keys, her spectacular high notes and the deep tombs of reverb. The songs segued as they swirled around the room, a club space transformed into a cathedral and, in a matter of seconds, reaching a point of transcendental beauty. This was love, as vast as an ocean. Her voice was cradled in ambient arms, a keyboard on one side and the ambient textures on the other; the music spoke words of love, to keep your loved ones close. If we gave out stars, we’d be talking about elevens. Her songs were radiant tapestries of sound that could make your soul crumble in an instant; her music leads you home.