Julianna Barwick’s 2011 second album The Magic Place used her looped vocal lines to create sumptuous choral noise that has more in common with synthetic ambient music then community choirs. A ghostly gorgeous imprint was the outcome.
Nepethene feels much more alive. Taking advantage of an invite from producer Alex Somers to come to the popular artist haven of Iceland, Barwick has composed an album that breathes and sings in unison with its creator. Whether it’s a teenage girl choir or string section parts from Amiina, guitar from Róbert Sturla Reynisson from Múm or, even, a contribution from her mother, a former member of a travelling vocal group, Nepethene benefits from the input of others.
The album’s title is from Ancient Greek literature which refers to a magic drug that would banish grief from the minds of its takers. Barwick chose it having experienced a death in the family during the recording.
Barwick’s trademark ethereal wonderment could be considered to have such an effect as the magic drug.
On Nepethene, the music, thanks to the collaborations are much more dynamic. There’s a hopeful tone. With the compositions becoming less loop-based and drawn from one mind, the arrangements don’t rely on sustained layering as much as before. Instead, the album exudes a rich glow of noise that is concocted of more substantial source material. The result is a calming collection of choral-assisted music that has a more multi-faceted panoramic sound.
Barwick, no longer composing alone in her Brooklyn home has created something much more universal than before.