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Boomkat Product Review:
Julianna Barwick returns with the successor to 2011's charming The Magic Place. Given how successful that self-recorded LP was, it’s surprising to see that the Louisiana-born singer has looked to an external producer to document and frame her work this time around, namely Sigur Ros associate Alex Somers. Barwick once again uses delay-pedals to build heaven-scraping towers of chorused plainsong out of her earnestly, achingly pretty soprano, placing them in what John Foxx - whose 90s’ ambient recordings the better material sometimes recalls - called “cathedral oceans” of reverb. It’s hard not to be moved by the poignant pastoral drift of ‘Look Into Your Own Mind’ (think Virginia Astley via Pete Namlook) or the hushed spiritual drama of ‘Offing’, but over the course of 10 tracks the unwaveringly “soft” sound wears a little thin, and the introduction of an Icelandic teenage girls’ choir nudges the whole thing firmly into mawkish new age territory. What gave The Magic Place its power was its haunted, isolationist quality, and the sense that you were listening to songs of survival and sufferance as much as celebration; by contrast Nepenthe sounds cosy and overripe, its soaring, IMAX-scale climaxes unearned. Nonetheless, Barwick’s voice is an instrument to be reckoned with, and Somers’ delicately cast chamber arrangements are nothing if not soothing.