My occassional fliratatons with new age music, if you could even call it such, brought me through musicians who today aren’t quite known for that genre even if lasting streams of those influences clearly remain in their subsequent work. And I never quite enjoyed it. Sarah McLachlan’s debut album Touch (1988) surely looked the part with the ornately (and of course slightly eerily) decorated sepia toned cover art. I found myself liking her subsequent albums more, probably owing to their stronger rock and pop leanings, and soon gave away my copy of the album to a friend who appreciated it much more. Another point of contact was probably Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), which I never got into as much as I know I should have, preferring instead his weightier Discreet Music (1975).
It was thus with some trepidation that I approached Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place, released earlier this year on Asthmatic Kitty, a label not impartial to spiritual(ised) music. The album had all the ethereal and flighty aspects of music that I’ve remained rather guarded about (where is it all headed?), but yet it contained such a strong authorial presence that drew me in, even without a discernable lyrical narrative. The difference for Barwick is that focusing on the experiential has not hindered her from producing works of great force and direction, with tracks like “Prizewinning” challenging the “nothing ever happens” stereotype of new age music by first subjecting her own glowing vocals to the discipline of a rigid looping bassline and later setting it free with the gloriously triumphant call of a marching band. – Dan.
The Magic Place is available on Asthmatic Kitty.