Julianna Barwick – Rosabi EP (Dead Oceans, 2014)

Julianna Barwick’s brand of ethereal Ambient Pop was new to me until last year’s gorgeous LP Nepenthe dropped and quickly became one of my favourite albums of the year. Focusing on soundscapes that are largely formed by the haunting manipulation of her and her assistant singers’ vocals, but with a little supplemental instrumentation, Barwick spins tracks that are deeply affecting in their wordlessness, their humanity and emotion wrought by the intimacy and suggestiveness of the human coos, cries and wails. And so her new EP Rosabi adopts the same M.O as prior releases, but perhaps without quite the impact that the full lengths afford.

Opener “Pure” ramps up slowly in a wave of textural crescendo, a multi-faceted and many layered wave of expanding sound that crests in a juxtaposing climax as it reaches its conclusion. The instrumentation is light and barely there even at its highest, nothing more than a soft cushion of light drone underpinning the bright shimmers of the quieter coos and little more than a distant memory compared to the luminous and empowered wails that develop in its core. This purity is a complex and surprisingly striking expansion of sound rather than the expected fragile and wavering minimalism of some delicate flower, defying stereotypes in a lush stroke.

Not too many gears are forced to change in the evocative “Meet You At Midnight”, although it chooses to take the role of the former by becoming more submissive and dampening down the music, making it more appropriate for the hour at which we are meeting. It’s longer duration allows for slightly expanded and controlled evolution, although it never reaches the same heights and seems more content to muse internally, muttering sweet nothings as we watch the world go by in the gurgling and rumbling field recordings that make a minor appearance. All of which seems to rollover in “Two Moons”, striking up not only a similar riff but also providing more substantial and integral synth lines into the mix, the first real hint of true rhythmic melody made big. But the vocals are sacrificed slightly in order to accept this integration, acting as a more supplemental role and becoming slightly more diffuse and delicate.

The transformative process of this album culminates in closer “Blood Brothers”, resulting in the ideal marriage of vocals and melody by bringing forward the rhythms from its predecessor alongside the vocal style and scope of the opener. It’s probably the biggest and boldest track of the EP too as it finds a space for all of these little textural necessities, forging an altogether rather homely and intimate sound through the gentle bird chirrups, quiet scrapings and muffled, suppressed sounds in the light drums and harpsichord-esque thrumming.

It’s a beautiful little EP, clocking in at only around 16 minutes, a nice interstitial between releases to sate those seeking any fresh content and/or perhaps to those wanting to scratch an itch but not want to get sucked into anything more time consuming. There’s nothing overly special about it, nothing emotionally overwhelming or wholly interconnected between the pieces, it’s just a relatively short slice of gorgeous ambient constructions that I happen to like a lot.

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