Julianna Barwick: “Nepenthe” Review
It’s tempting to just sum up a review of the new Julianna Barwick record with a series of adjectives: “beautiful,” “ethereal” “angelic,” “epic,” etc. And in doing so you would probably get as close as you can to the point. But such words don’t really come close to relating the experience of listening to the album, which is difficult to approximate. Floating through the heavens to the accompaniment of a choir of angels? Sure. Standing atop a frigid mountaintop while the beauty of the pure white snow and blue sky envelopes your soul? You bet. My guess is, the metaphorical equivalent of listening to Barwick’s music heavily depends on an individual’s taste in epic experiences. But chances are, whatever the feeling, it will be a one you consider beautiful.
I mean, it’s hard to argue that Barwick’s music is anything but. She records soaring, mostly wordless vocal tracks and blends them together into a rapturous choir of cherubic sound. On her newest record Nepenthe, she’s accompanied in person and in spirit by Sigur Ros frontman Alex Somers, who helmed the record’s production and also brought in artists from múm and Amiina (two of Somers’ other projects) to play instruments. These instruments range from strings to guitar and synths. And while the instruments make for a pleasant accompaniment, it’s Barwick’s vocal loops that allow the sound to achieve divine heights. And what heights they are! At the risk of hyperbole, Nepenthe is if not the best album of 2013, at the very least the most beautiful. But don’t listen to me – if my writing were half as gorgeous as the music I am attempting to relate, it would probably warrant being painstakingly illuminated by monks. Listen to it yourself below and if you don’t agree with me…well, I truly am sorry for your loss.