It takes an album like Nepenthe to give its meaning back to the word "mesmerizing," overused as it is in music reviews. Julianna Barwick's third record is a beautiful collection of ambient songs tied together by an alien theme. She's always had masterful control of loop pedals, and she confirms her dexterity here, intricately layering vocal and instrumental samples until they reach a tipping point. The sounds blend into each other, and the result feels like a religious event.
Her previous two albums were recorded alone in her bedroom, but the Brooklyn-based Barwick trekked to Reykjavík, Iceland, to record Nepenthe with Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers. The foreign setting allowed her to record with natural reverb and employ the voices of a teenage all-girl choir. Created during Iceland's dark, cold winter, Nepenthe's intimate vibe immediately warms and envelops. In short: mesmerizing.
Top track: Offing