By Russell Warfield
For those familiar with the prior solo work of Helado Negro and Julianna Barwick – the two figures collaborating under the name of OMBRE on Believe You Me – it might be a bit of a chin scratcher to imagine how their sounds might cohere into anything approaching a unified whole, let alone a satisfying one. Barwick’s wilful disembodiment of ethereal a capella loops might not necessarily ring true as the most natural counterpart to Negro’s wide eyed, south American psychedelia leanings, but Believe You Me is undoubtedly a resolute triumph.
And the trick is clever: while the two artists inevitably meet each other somewhere in between their two individual sounds, they don’t do anything so crudely simple as to just meet each other dead in the middle, nor cleanly split the difference between their solo identities. Instead, there’s a true exploratory quality to the record – using their pre-established trademarks and strengths as starting points to push each other into new territories, and creating a gorgeously immersive LP in the process.
The album offers its surprise (and relief) within the very first track ‘Noche Brilla’. Opening with a soft horn and lazily plucked nylon string guitar (unmistakably Negro’s offering), the gentle instrumentation is quickly joined by the luxurious harmony-mixture of female vocal loop (even more unmistakably Barwick’s offering) – the duo then spend two minutes or so just breathing into each other, leaving plenty of space – and time – for things to drift at their organic behest.
From there, OMBRE spend ten tracks oscillating between the two poles of the two artists’ established sounds, never going too close to one nor the other, and frequently drifting off in surprising diagonal directions. ‘Weigh Those Words’, for instance, is resolutely a Negro jam – putting his vocal and shuffling guitar at the front and centre, utilising Barwick as background ornamentation. ‘Sense’ on the other hand, is much more of a Barwick production – a wide sky of self-harmony using little more than dreamy ambiance to provide powerful texture.
And perhaps what’s most refreshing of all is that plenty of these tracks don’t easily fall under the binary headings of ‘Barwick tracks’ or ‘Negro tracks’. Songs like the fabulous ‘Carla Falsa’ combine Negro’s exotic electronics with Barwick’s aching beauty, and it feels impossible to say with any certainty who brought what to the table, and in which order. It’s an OMBRE jam, nothing else. Throughout the record is a dual streak of the two artists’ unmistakable fingerprints, but never do Barwick or Negro go for predictable targets or open goals. Anyone who’s heard the towering power of Barwick’s a capella work, and the playful lustiness of Negro’s textures, could well have half-expected an album of unbridled hedonism, and perhaps a well executed one at that.
But instead, Believe You Me is an exquisite landscape of restraint – somewhat featureless on the first listen, but devastating on the tenth. In this respect, it could be considered a slightly closer cousin of Barwick’s prior work – an album to put on and be whole heartedly ravished by – but it ultimately can’t be overstated how independently OMBRE should be considered from its parents’ solo work; taking the best components of their individual sounds and building on them to reach wondrous new heights.