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First Listen: Julianna Barwick, 'Nepenthe'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson
Shawn Brackbill

Julianna Barwick makes grand, gracefully sweeping choral music that's so swoonily lovely, it's far too easy to lose sight of the craft that went into making it. Barwick takes small vocal phrases and bits of instrumentation, samples them and loops them impeccably to create a sound that tentatively recalls the impossible lushness of Enya when it's not fanning out into sounds that can be experimental, spare, artful and alluring.

Reflecting influences ranging from Philip Glass to her roots in church, Barwick has assembled a string of lovely, imaginative, hypnotically enveloping albums — the latest of which, Nepenthe, surrounds countless fragments of her voice with subtle snatches of piano, strings and even, in "Pyrrhic," tiny effects that recall Sigur Ros. Like its predecessor, 2011's appropriately titled The Magic Place, Nepenthe (out August 20) isn't just accessibly, prettily head-filling and ethereal. It's downright medicinal, altering the listener's surroundings in ways that make them comfortable, yet still wondrously inviting.

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