Friday, January 05, 2007

#4- Joanna Newsom- Ys


Seriously, what the hell is this thing? Where do I even begin? Five tracks, most of which are over 10 minutes long, of surreal harp-based music embellished by a full orchestra full of counter-melodies. Who sits down and decides to make music like this?

And then you gradually get over the shock of comprehending what you're listening to and realize that this album is stuffed to the brim with some of the more beautiful pieces of lyrical imagery you're likely to hear all year. After 2004's The Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom's unconventional vocals (like a 12-year-old girl, some would say) have been accused of being a crutch and her music called pastiche "freak-folk." But with Ys Newsom transcends any genre she belonged to and asserts herself as one of the more talented and unique songwriters of our time.

Newsom's way with words is incredible. Though she has years of classical training on harp, she's always a poet first and foremost. She blends Dylan-esque alliteration-full impressionism (The cities we passed were a flickering wasteland/ But his hand in my hand made them hale and harmless/ While down in the lowlands the crops are all coming/ We have everything/ Life is thundering blissful towards death/ In a stampede of his fumbling green gentleness) with Colin Meloy's penchant for ancient storytelling. And the lyrical gems never stop - every line serves a purpose in crafting Newsom's surreal prose.

Though the orchestral parts seem overbearing at times, the way they weave in and out of Newsom's vocal melodies makes more sense the more you listen. Newsom uses the strings (arranged by Van Dyke Parks of Beach Boys fame) to carve brilliant counter-melodies throughout the album.

This is a complex album that takes a several listens to fully digest. But give it time, because it isn't often you can point to an artist truly forging their own path through the musical wilderness, and there are few artists who sound this beautiful doing it.

Joanna Newsom- Emily from Ys


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