Music Reviews
Healing is a Miracle

Julianna Barwick Healing is a Miracle

(Ninja Tune) Rating - 8/10

Healing is a Miracle is the perfect title for Julianna Barwick’s fifth LP. The vocalist and composer named the album after the mundane marvel of the human body’s ability to heal itself; it’s fitting that listening to it feels like a healing process in and of itself. Her music washes over you like a wave of warmth, her many layers of reverberating vocal loops creating rich soundscapes and vivid imagery. Barwick’s earliest musical influence was the church choir, something that can be felt strongly in her music, which itself often has a sacred aura. In her recordings, Barwick essentially creates expansive choirs out of her own voice, invoking the atmosphere of a resonant cathedral.

In many ways, Healing is a Miracle is a continuation of the distinctive sound we’ve come to know and love Barwick’s music for. But there are also some new developments on the album. For one thing, her recording process was given a slight upgrade when she was gifted some studio monitors by Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi—Barwick had previously recorded all of her music using headphones. This addition greatly changed the physical experience of recording: “When I added the bass I really felt it in my body, you know, in a way you just wouldn’t with headphones…it was kind of euphoric and fun.” Thus on this album, you can hear her leaning into bass more so than on her previous projects, perhaps to transmit that feeling of euphoria—which she more than succeeds at.

This change is particularly noticeable on breathtaking opener Inspirit, which begins as an a cappella vocal with so many overlapping tracks that you can hear the overtones the many layers of her voice form. When the bass enters around two minutes in, her sound opens up to magnificent depths—you don’t need your own pair of studio monitors to feel this change in your body. The words that Barwick sings are usually obscured by her recording process, but when you are informed of what she is saying, you are often left with the feeling that her approach couldn’t have communicated them more clearly. Inspirit has just two lines: “Open your heart / It’s in your head.”

Another of the album’s distinctions is its impressive cast of collaborators. Harpist Mary Lattimore is featured on Oh, Memory, an effervescent track built on a keyboard loop. Lattimore’s shimmery harp playing further enhances Barwick’s rich harmonies. Jónsi shares vocals with Barwick on In Light, a track that finds Barwick exploring a more extroverted sound with drum machines and a chorus song-structure. Jónsi's distinctive vocals compliment Barwick’s beautifully—she commented that hearing the sound of their voices together was “one of the joys of my life.” Producer Nosaj Thing utilizes synths and drum machines to turn one of Barwick’s wordless vocal loops into something that nearly resembles a pop song on closer Nod.

But there’s just as much strength in the solo tracks. The title track’s soothing strings provide a lovely backdrop for Barwick’s echoey vocals. Centerpiece Safe is a stunning tapestry of vocal loops that begins in minimalist territory but expands into a transcendent soundscape. Flowers, the album’s briefest track, makes a strong impression with its strikingly dark and apprehensive atmosphere; Barwick uses heavy breathing, synths, and siren-like vocals to create a sense of unease not commonly heard in her music. Wishing Well provides respite with its enveloping vocal textures, evoking a kind of ambient psychedelia.

Healing is a Miracle is an entrancing album from start to finish, and will be a gratifying listen for both long-time Barwick fans and newcomers to her music alike. Barwick’s continued development as both a soloist and collaborator resonates beautifully throughout this truly healing project.