Julianna Barwick’s revelatory third full-length, Will, is a surprising left turn for the Brooklyn experimental artist. Conceived and self-produced over the past year in a variety of locations, the ominous, compelling Will is a departure from 2013’s Alex Somers-produced Nepenthe. If that last record conjured images of gentle, thick fog rolling over desolate mountains, then the self-produced Will is a late afternoon thunderstorm, a cathartic collision of sharp and soft textures that sounds looming and restorative all at once.
Will comes off of Barwick’s busiest period in her career to date following the release of Nepenthe–a spate of activity that included playing piano for Yoko Ono, performing at Carnegie Hall at the annual Tibet House concert with the Flaming Lips and Philip Glass, the Rosabi EP and beer created in conjunction with brewing company Dogfish Head, and a re-imagining of Bach’s “Adagio” from Concerto In D Minor.
Barwick’s life over the past several years has largely been lived in transit, and as such the genesis of Will was not beholden to location; Barwick worked on the album in a variety of locales, from a desolate house in upstate New York to the Moog Factory in Asheville, North Carolina, to Lisbon, Portugal, the first European city to embrace Julianna’s music in 2007.
“I love touring, but it can be a wild ride,” Barwick reflects on this cycle of constant motion. “You’re constantly adjusting, assimilating, and finding yourself in life-changing situations.” Those experiences played into and helped shape Will’s charged, unstable atmosphere: “I knew I’d be playing these songs live, so I wanted some movement,” she explains. “Something that had rhythm and low-end.”
That sense of forward propulsion is largely owed to Will’s synth-heavy textures, an ingredient she was inspired to add to her vocal loop-heavy formula after demoing a new prototype analog sequencer for Moog during last year’s FORM Festival in Arcosanti, Arizona.
The electric current that runs through Will takes on various shapes of intoxicating instability: the orbiting chain of tones that wafts through “Nebula”, the frizzy sine waves lying under the firmament of “Same”, the haunting vocal echoes on opener “St. Apolonia” that were recorded late at night at a Lisbon train underpass, and the martial arpeggios that accompany Will’s processional closer “See, Know”.
Another new wrinkle that Will introduces in Barwick’s sound: Mas Ysa’s Thomas Arsenault, who lends his richly complex vocals to “Same” and “Someway” and weaves perfectly into Barwick’s distinctive musical fabric. The album also features contributions from Dutch cellist Maarten Vos and percussion from Jamie Ingalls (Chairlift, Tanlines, Beverly).
Will is largely a product of ups and downs, a reflection of a life lived somewhere in between transience and standing still. “While making this record, there were moments of isolation and dark currents,” Barwick admits. “I like exploring that, and I love when I come across songs that sound scary or ominous. I’ve always been curious about what goes into making a song that way.” The beguiling, beautifully complicated Will is the result of that curiosity, as well as the latest proof yet of Barwick’s irresistibly engaging talent as a composer and vocalist.