When someone describes an album as “hmmm, I dunno, sort of like Enya if she were from Brooklyn” — that person is not setting you up for success with said album. I realize I’m guilty of doing just that, but part of the glory of Julianna Barwick’s Florine EP comes from allowing its luminous beams to lift you from the doldrums of your a cappella cynicism.
Yes, Florine (save for a few saturated synths and subdued bass beds) is almost entirely a vocal album, but Barwick’s approach doesn’t veer toward aberrant experiment (like, say, Björk’s Medulla), and it certainly doesn’t make me crave a bubble bath with a unicorn at the base of a rainbow the way the aforementioned Ms. Ní Bhraonáin does. With little more than a mic and an echo pedal, Barwick’s music glows somewhere between shoegaze (Cocteau Twins, especially) and choral music (she grew up singing in church) — though I swear on “Cloudbank” she’s learned some whale calls.
On “Bode,” the undulating layers of her voice approach the sheen of a brass section, whereas “The Highest” finds her streaking across the top of the track like a spray of cirrus clouds. Aficionados of ambient music might moan over Florine’s sometimes frustrating lack of low end, but for those with an open mind, a long drive, and/or a large joint, Barwick provides one of this winter’s prettiest half-hours.