Step Right Up: Ombre
OMBRE is a new musical collaboration between Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro. Their album ‘Believe You Me’ was released on the wonderful Asthmatic Kitty label earlier this year.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
A friend of mine recommended OMBRE to me, and once I heard Julianna Barwick’s name mentioned, its significance became immediately apparent. Rewind to 2011. Julianna Barwick’s gorgeous album, ‘The Magic Place’ flooded the airwaves with its healing tones and blissed out ambient soundscapes. Barwick’s looped vocal harmonies evoked a church choir with wordless harmonies, where fragments of sound combine to form the loveliest of intricate patterns. As the title suggests, Julianna Barwick’s music is indeed magic. Furthermore, the cinematic journey of Barwick’s unique sound is full of hope, joy and solace. ‘The Magic Place’ has been one of my most cherished albums from last year, together with Julia Holter’s ‘Ekstasis’, who like Barwick, conjures up an otherworldly dreamscape of wonder and beauty.
Forward to 2012. The collaborative journey of OMBRE sees the light of day. Two very talented artists are on display here. Barwick’s clean, soaring harmonies and church choir sensibilities merge effortlessly with Negro’s rustic-Latin-psyche-folk. Helado Negro likens ‘Believe You Me’ to “something where we find common ground and build bridges, buildings, and skyscrapers…sometimes even parks and waterslides.” OMBRE’s sound is very organic. It’s the sound of two close friends (the two only got to know each other in 2010), sharing ideas and feelings, resulting in ‘Believe You Me’. It’s an album full of hazy sunshine pop fused with drone-ambient wrapped in warmth and beauty.
Album opener ‘Noche Brilla’ starts off with an arpeggiated nylon guitar and soft trumpet. The fragile, plucked strings meanders slowly beneath the Miles Davis-esque trumpet. The track reminds me of a 60s jazz soundtrack. Chill-out comes to mind! Next up is ‘Weight Those Words’, which changes the dynamic. Latin-tinged folk-pop sums up the gorgeous sound. The song’s rhythm has a bossa nova feel. Majestic electric piano swirls in around the vocals of Barwick and Negro. The groove of the acoustic guitar reminds me of Morr Music’s trademark sunshine indie-pop sound. The song paints an image of a lovely summer’s evening, with the sun shining brightly over the horizon. Synths and electronic loops creates the sonic backdrop for ‘Vistate’, before Barwick’s layered harmonies and Negro’s vocals come to the fore. Listening to Negro’s voice and synthesizer recalls the sound of David Sylvian.
‘Dawning’ is a fortress of solitude. Barwick’s refrain is like a mantra, amidst hypnotic drone. The song builds and builds. Barwick’s voice melds so gorgeously with the playful notes of the vibraphone. The closing part of ‘Dawning’ is embedded in dreamlike electric piano and guitar sounds. The fifth track, ‘Sense’ is my current favourite. ‘Sense’ captures the magic created by the two artists in deep communication with one another. Julianna Barwick’s harmonies float in a sea of ambient brilliance. It’s the interface between the voice and technology. The drone and ambient worlds combine, creating a cinematic haven of sound, similar to that of Grouper. ‘Tormentas’ returns to a more familiar folk pop feel. It could be the soundtrack to a Jean Luc Godard film from the 60s. Drums, percussion, trumpets and acoustic guitar creates a European sound. A synthy space jam is heard next with ‘Cara Falsa’, full of ethereal noise. ‘Pausa Primera’ contains samples of children playing and talking in Spanish, over Barwick’s heavenly harmonies. Childhood is distilled in the song’s short duration. ‘Noche Brilla Pt 2’ brings the listener back to the journey’s beginning. Lovely sunshine and clear blue skies are above us.
‘Believe You Me’ is out now on Asthmatic Kitty.