Julianna Barwick‚Äôs Florine has an enveloping dreamlike atmosphere built from multi-layered vocals and simple instrumental loops. Her choral abstractions are pretty and affecting but will need expanding or she risks being as musically trapped as a third unknown Cocteau Twin who died as an infant yet gibbers from a buried shoebox.
Barwick originates from Louisiana and resides in Brooklyn by way of Oklahoma, but Florine carries no discernible residue from those, or indeed any other places. Instead, this six song self-release evokes states related to the feeling of being in motion, in ecstasy, perhaps in space, or at least floating in a slightly (if not most) peculiar way. On "Sunlight, Heaven" and "Cloudbank," the layered voices resemble a cloned pack of mysterious female Bulgarian folk singers as gorgeous squeaks repeatedly push against the human/dog hearing barrier and deep throbs and murmurs add the effect of a non-orgiastic yet impossibly sublime religious ritual. "The Highest" perhaps most resembles the aforementioned buried would-be doppelganger of Liz Fraser.
Listening in my car to the sections on the album with words that are either deliberately indecipherable or in a made up language, brought back a glorious memory. One beautiful Saturday afternoon in 1987 I was driving in Cambridgeshire with windows up and stereo loudly playing Eno‚Äôs Apollo album. Inconceivably puffy clouds lay against a blue sky as the vehicle passed slowly through manicured villages. After some slightly challenging pieces, the track "Ascent" (which has been described as a "reversed choir") put me in a hopelessly awed state where every little thing seemed cinematic, slowed, and significant.
Several of Barwick‚Äôs pieces may induce a similar feeling or even an approximation of "saudade" (the Portuguese word for) a longing for something fondly recalled, which is gone, but might return in a distant future yet which carries a fatalist knowledge that the object of longing might really never return. In 1912, A.F.G. Bell described this feeling as "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness." I am also reminded of Lord Buckley‚Äôs "Subconscious Mind" in which he spouts in touching yet hipster detail about someone he was nuts for before remarking upon how he just drove the last few miles in a total trancelike state.
Florine does perhaps have one or two obvious clues as to how Barwick might avoid becoming Enya. For example, "Choose" has a slightly more tribal feel with the chant of "anyway you choose" and a soft pulsing rhythm which might be a sped-up heart beat. Also, the piano and sad pastoral moaning on "Anjos" hint at the lovely duets of Virginia Astley and David Sylvian and the possibility of a fuller and broader sound. I doubted Bibio could break out of his previous musical maze but with Ambivalence Avenue he has done just that. Hopefully Julianna Barwick can progress beyond these looped hypnotic sketches of sound. For me that will be essential, as the vocal gymnastics of the final track "Bode" either are a bit of a mess or my tolerance was reached by the five preceding songs. Anyhow, drive carefully while listening.