From the magazine: ISSUE 87, June/July 2013
Julianna Barwick makes beautiful music. This is and always has been the baseline fact about what she creates, and until her fourth album, Nepenthe, she never needed assistance. “Sanguine, Florine and The Magic Place were basically all recorded with no eyes or ears on me as I was making them in my bedroom or a rehearsal space in Brooklyn,” she says. For a change of scenery, she traveled to Reykjavik after she was approached by the Iceland-via-Baltimore producer Alex Somers. His influence on the music is clear, from the songs’ cohesion to the wider spectrum of weird sounds she has worked into her usual practice of multitracking her own vocals. Another source of influence, indirect but ever-present, was the country’s winter landscape. “It was just constant, amazing beauty,” she says. “I can remember so many moments on that trip where I was like, I’ve never seen anything like this. Just the Blue Lagoon and the volcanic rock towering over it. We went to Þingvellir Park and drove for 40 minutes to this crystal lake crater thing. It was an iridescent opal color that I’d never seen before.” On Nepenthe—named for a sort of antidepressant popular in Greek mythology—Barwick’s voice is strong yet soft, and in the same way that a gorgeous landscape can be powerful and overwhelming, the album is all-encompassing, like a caul. Her voice, guitar and piano coagulate into one monumental tone, perfectly suited to Nepenthe’s pristine origins. Photographer Derrick Belcham joined Barwick in Iceland, capturing not only her recording process, but much of the terrain she encountered during her trip. The photos, like the album, are beautiful on their own, but together, they’re a reminder that even the most otherworldly music comes from someplace real.