Album Reviews: Eisley, Dustin O’Halloran, Julianna Barwick

March 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Valley – Eisley

Room Noises, Eisley’s critically acclaimed debut album, was endearingly untidy, with whimsical lyrics and surreal imagery.  With their sophomore album, Combinations, it was clear that they were attempting a more direct songwriting style: its production was tighter and cleaner, its lyrics more straightforward, and its melodies even catchier than before.  It was a hard transition for some fans, and a necessary one for others.  But what they could not accomplish in Combinations they have most certainly succeeded in mastering with their newest release, The Valley.  Sisters Sherri and Stacy Dupree’s voices seemed to have matured immensely since their first record, which proves a necessary development to drive their increasingly complex songwriting and orchestration.  Some fans may find their simple and direct lyrics a drawback, where they exchange fantasy for more predictable sentiments.  Nevertheless, the album is far from disappointing, and exemplifies the balance between accessibility and originality that so many find lacking today.

Lumière – Dustin O’Halloran

Having released two full-length albums of solo piano opuses, it would be a legitimate assumption that the addition of strings and synth textures in Dustin O’Halloran’s newest work would result in a dressed-up solo piano record rather than a fully-formed instrumental pop record.  On Lumière, however, O’Halloran avoids that pitfall, writing string arrangements that are as vital and compelling as his writing for the piano, the foundation upon which everything else is built.  The album is balanced and concise, simple yet deliberate, and above all, undeniably beautiful.

The Magic Place – Julianna Barwick

Since the beginning of music-making, the human voice has been viewed as the most pure of instruments, the most angelic of timbres, and the most resonant with man’s soul.  This seems intuitive in the music of Brooklyn-based Julianna Barwick, as her voice is her primary instrument, and up until her latest effort, The Magic Place, her only instrument (save for a guitar on the opening track of her 2007 debut album, Sanguine).  Her previous release, Florine EP, veered from the short improvisation-style recordings of Sanguine in exchange for a lengthier song form, developing her vocal layers slowly and patiently.  This patience may have seemed a bit aimless to some—it was as if Barwick was establishing a beautiful background track for some something that was hinted at, but never quite materialized.  Though there was clear intentionality and raw talent evident in Barwick’s musical language, it seemed like she was still in the process of discovery, as if her songs were written during live performance and intended for live performance—to create an impression rather than make clear and direct statements.  This did not make for sloppy or inconsequential music, but it certainly left listeners eager for more.

The Magic Place is just such a cure for such longing.  Each track develops at a quicker pace, driving the album forward with a stronger sense of direction.  And though the atmosphere remains as lush as her prior recordings, it is cleaner, and this leanness provides the perfect framework for her vocals, which are both stronger and more versatile (which produces striking contrasts when the soundscape diverges, as in the simpler, more conventional songwriting of “Bog In Your Gate,” or the pulsing bass line and drums in “Prizewinning”).  “Flown,” the final track, begins with a lone vocal line, then adds another and another, stating its anthem like a call for man to awaken to the splendor of his own existence, to the miracle of life itself.  When the piano finally enters, it is a sweet reminder that deliverance is possible, even in a world as fucked-up as ours, that a man does not have to leave this earth to see his spirit reborn.  For a generation striving to find or create meaning, solace can be found in artists such as Barwick, who so triumphantly liberate the intensity of the human spirit through song.  Of course, if her voice doesn’t do that for you, the soaking wet reverb will.

 

By Kelsey Upward, Staff Music Writer.

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