A beautiful thing happened when Asthmatic Kitty artists Helado Negro and Julianna Barwick first met: they got to know each other. The result, a new collaborative band, OMBRE, and a brand-new full-length record, Believe You Me.
Rewind to 2009, the end-days of the once-fertile empire of MySpace. Helado Negro was (as folks were prone to at the time) clicking through the friend-of-a-friend band pages when he came across Barwick’s music. The gears turned, the cartoon lightbulb dinged on above his head, and he was in.
Fast-forward to 2010 and a collaborative tour with Barwick and Helado Negro. The important thing here is that the two didn’t know each other yet. The resulting tour was a grand adventure into the realms of getting-to-know-you-ness. Bonding-on-the-highway-ness. Classic-American-roadtrip-into-the-heart-of-buddy-ness!
After the tour, they decided to further their fellowship by—as says the good Dr. Dre—getting down in the lab with a pen and a pad. The sessions for Believe You Me began in May of 2010. Says Helado Negro, “We really had no clue what we were going to make and we would just throw things out there and record. The majority of it took place at my personal studio, Island Universe Space. We would just jam or record vocal ideas or whatever; it was all just organic and at the same time we were getting to know each other even more as friends.”
OMBRE’s 10 tracks are very much the sound of two solo artists, each bringing a distinctive style, vibe, and voice to the mix. Barwick’s clear, high harmonies and church choir sensibilities meld well with Helado Negro’s rustic-Latin-psyche-folk meets big-city-blockparty. Both artists brought a lot to the table, writing together and scheming ideas and playing about every instrument under the sun (while Barwick’s previous work has been largely a capella, on Believe You Me she plays guitar, synth, vibraphones, and a mean electric piano). The end product is a very warm (and very human) collage of personality.
Based on a combo-punch of acoustic instrumentation and programmed electronics, the tracks range from stripped-down and summery ambient jams to full-band psyche explorations. The mood is kept mellow; it’s a cozy, friendly sound, enveloping and embracing. The album feels like the product of a new friendship, the tender walking-on-eggshells moments, the celebration, the growing respect, the laughs, and the straight-up moments of wild-hot synchronicity and shared architectural creation. (Helado Negro likens Believe You Me to “something where we find common ground and build bridges, buildings, and skyscrapers… sometimes even parks and waterslides.”)
Tracks simmer with the mellow chording of nylon string guitars, bubbling electronics, and the comely pluck of harps; they rise high and mountainous with Miles Davis-y trumpet and then disappear altogether. There’s a very old school jazzy soundtrack air to these sessions. (An inspiration to the sessions was Clu Gulager’s 1969 film A Day With the Boys and Egberto Gismonti’s fantastic late-’60s compositional jazz.) It has the feel of a hot summer day in Brooklyn, 1971, the sun through the tenements and everyone sitting in the shade watching the world drift by.
The first track, “Noche Brilla,” opens with a pretty, quiet, down-raking arpeggiation of guitar strings and a lone, Sketches of Spain-recalling trumpet, before Barwick’s vocals come rising above it all like a lonely (and lovely) ghost. Up next is “Weight Those Words,” this record’s in-a-perfect-world radio hit with both sharing vocal duties over beautiful “Riders on the Storm”-style piano, tappity rolls of drums, and acoustic guitar. Instantly charming and timeless, it’s a rhythmic, head-nodding full-band track that really kicks the record into gear and gets you set up for the collaborative journey to come.
Track seven, “Cara Falsa,” showcases the ambient and programmed electronic side of this record, with a synthy space jam of pure oscillating ascendance. “Pausa Primera” begins the end of the record with samples of children playing and shouting happily in Spanish and melts into Barwick’s handsome, sighing vocals; distant, buried in the mix.
The closing track, “Noche Brilla Pt 2,” is both a good companion piece to the first song as well as “Weight Those Words,” with a nice, sunny, rhythmic guitar part and Barwick’s vocals at their most high and shining.
Believe You Me’s 36:19 minute run is a quiet storm that never puts you in danger—just a beautiful, refreshing summer rain to watch from your front porch, sitting next to a good friend. A new friend? Yes. Perfect. Even better.