Julianna Barwick

I spent a huge amount of time growing up singing in choirs.  My dad was a minister so I sang in his church's choirs and then my grade school had a professional boy's choir which I sang in for 4 years.  I spent high school and college singing too, although in college I was in an a cappella group and couldn't stomach any more liturgical music.  Now, though, I find myself really only interested in pre-renaissance christian church music (which was all choral) and madrigals; Monteverdi, Mauchaut, Josquin, Gesualdo made some of most gorgeous, hypnotic, outre music in history.  I think it's great that so many new great bands (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver) are getting interested in group singing and vocal harmony.  But with one notable exception - Panda Bear's Person Pitch, all of this singing has had little to do with this christian choral music and chant that I'm talking about. Most bands who sing in groups are much more immediately indebted to other pop, motown, and rock groups from the 60's. This absence is caused, I think, by the stigma against church music in general from a largely agnostic, or broadly ambivalent taste making youth culture that associates classical (e.g. stuffy) with liturgical (which are two very different things despite classical having been born of the former).  Church music can absolutely be stuffy, but this older, mysterious, ecstatic type is quite the opposite.  It's as unbridled, tortured, immense a music you'll find.  There's also a general fear in popular music of all varieties that singing in tune without forced inflection or affectation (which is the goal of choral singing) is plaintive at best, but really just boring.
Person Pitch had cultural signifiers from other lands in there to be sure and despite one track ("I'm Not"), it would be stretching to say that the choral influence for Person Pitch was western european christian. It could just as easily been african tribal, or south american tribal or christian. Julianna Barwick now adds one more name to this short list of exceptions who have embraced the christain choral tradition. Her album Sanguine, which came out this time last year but got buried, takes the premise of Panda Bear and places it squarely in the choir boy canon. The record is pretty poorly produced, and there are some tuning issues particularly in her highest range, which is a shame not a virtue (even though I get the sense she hopes it gives her indie cred). But it's still gorgeous and worth listening to not least of all for its expansiveness and innocence. There's a danger of course in emulating boy choirs that the thing will become precious or faux innocent, the way Bjork can sometimes get a little drippy, or worse the way Enya creates anything at all. In general, the record avoids this with the exception of the track that ended up garnering the most attention called "Dancing with Friends" which sounds like an all girl a capella group at Wellesley doing a warm up. There are things to be desired, I wish her voice had some more depth, that she didn't push so hard in her throat and let her chest do the work, and I wish she developed her pieces more instead of letting the initial loop be the whole story. This is why her remix for Radiohead's Reckoner is probably the best thing she's done, because the structure of the song was already there and all she had to do was beautify it, stretch it out. Even chant based music needs to move forward and develop. A procession has an important function other than being ritualistic, it gets you from one end of the church to the other.

Julianna Reckoner Remix
Untitled 3
Untitled 4
Dancing With Friends

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