Artist: Julianna Barwick
Album: Nepenthe

Released: 20 August 2013
Label: Dead Oceans

Nepenthe Julianna Barwick
Through the music of Julianna Barwick we may imagine her as only a visitor to our realm. With one foot somewhere else she brings to this genre more than the typical musician does. Her album Nepenthe (41'44") offers quiet music from an excited mind. In its moments of deformed abstraction Nepenthe seems to touch the darkness of a damaged soul - without falling prey to the emptiness it portrays. A few of the pieces feel as if we have awoken in someone else's dream; while elsewhere, using a gift for nuance, she spins music so soft - so as not to bruise the listener. Her sound also occasionally has a manic intensity that cuts against the theme of contentment - an ominous territory related in a captivating whisper. To achieve this wondrous centered clarity we find that the primary instrument in Barwick's work is her voice. Layered and manipulated she builds beautiful shimmering harmonies and overwhelming climactic moments. In one instant we hear her alone wavering and fragile, the next stacked wide and high within a choir. Guitar, piano and strings may also be heard in places within these ten tracks, but it is Barwick's inventiveness with her vocals that directs these intelligent and innovative works. Fans of Sigur Rós or Jónsi will relate to the ethereal quality of the compositions on Nepenthe, and older listeners will notice some similarities to Voices by Claire Hamill. But while Barwick's work is just as inspiriting and unclassifiable, all of this kind of music deals with what is felt beyond the sounded note.

- Chuck van Zyl/STAR'S END   10 October 2013

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