Musician, heal thyself: how ambient music brought solace in 2020

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With no clubs or gigs to go to and pandemic anxiety to quell, ambient music chimed more strongly in a year when artists reconsidered their sense of purpose

“A balm to your soul” – so went the Observer review of Julianna Barwick’s album this July, which was inspired by the musician’s move from New York City to the wellbeing mecca of Los Angeles. Her one-woman choir of celestial vocals is as calming as the bit at the end of a yoga class where you get to shut your eyes and lie under a blanket, and the album, along with its title Healing Is a Miracle, had extra resonance in 2020. Music is so often a communal experience, but with those possibilities snatched away this year, many of us have looked to sounds like this to soothe us where human connection couldn’t. Another reviewer agreed, writing that Barwick’s new music was “a salve for the collective wound”.

Barwick wasn’t the only one. Earlier this year, I interviewed a collection of musicians, including the pop performer Robyn, about the music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a cult Canadian musician whose spirited, otherworldly incantations are only just reaching new audiences, decades after they were first released. A retrospective of Glenn-Copeland’s music, Transmissions, came out last month, and Robyn noted the particular reassuring quality of his songs, especially on his New Age lost treasure Keyboard Fantasies: “It’s the purpose of his music,” she had said. “We all need to release, feel and heal, and Glenn helps us to do that through his own experiences.”

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