Wednesday, October 11, 2006


As 'appens, I have to agree w/ my esteemed blogging colleagues about Joanna Newsom's forthcoming LP "Ys": it is spectacularly wonderful. This album is gonna be all over everything in a few weeks time, if it ain't already.

Okay, sure, I'm getting the Bjork comparisons, but I don't wanna, because, to be honest, I can't stand her. Ditto: Tori Amos. (No, Bjork is just too forced and false, to actor-ly for my liking; I don't buy her schtik...her voice is all gymnastics and pyrotechnics and not much else; the kindest thing I can say about her is that she picks good collaborators.) But this is something else: Newsom's voice doesn't so much crack w/ emotion, as flake... it reminds me of tiny flakes of paint slowly peeling from a weatherbeaten windowsill, that hint at both age and agelessness...the tricks she plays with her voice: it moves from childlike wonder to the wisdom of old age on the turn of a phrase; she can be bluesy, but w/out resorting to a raw cliched rasp to summon up hurt or sorrow...No one else hints at quiet heartache quite like Newsom.

By itself, this would almost be enough, but she's an astonishing lyricist. From a pure writerly point of view, I'm in awe at her ability to play w/ words and images and rhythm so deftly...she doesn't quite pull it off in places; sometimes her delivery lets her down, but the fact that she's willing to reach so high, and that she succeeds so often...well...

So many great lines...I love the bit in "Emily" about meteors:

"The meteorite is the source of the light

And the meteor's just what we see

And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee."

The way she sings "And the meteor's just what we see" brings a tender lump to my throat.


"There is a rusty light on the pines tonight

Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow

Down into the bones of the birches

And the spires of the churches

Jutting out from the shadows

The yoke, and the axe, and the old smokestacks and the bale and the barrow

And everything sloped like it was dragged from a rope

In the mouth of the south below..."


And on the anthropomorphic love-song "Monkey and Bear":

"So, with the courage of a clown, or a cur

Or a kite, jerking tight at its tether

In her dun-brown gown of fur

And her jerkin' of swansdown and leather."

I've got so many favourite moments on this. It's a classic album, w/out doubt...I love the interlocking/modular song-within-a-song type structure, where sections overlap and overlay; it brings to mind all the usual Prog-Folk masterpieces like Comus' "First Utterance", Jan Dukes De Grey's "Mice and Rats in The Loft", Ia-Battiste's "Un Grand Dia", ISB's "Changing Horse", etc.

Special mention to Van Dyke Park's incredible string arrangements and micro-orchestration: there's something winderfully cinematic about his interjections: they're not blockbustin' widescreen sounds, but tiny soundalike vignettes from forgotten 30s/40s/50s b-movies w/ Newsom sounding like early Tom Waits on helium morphing into Syd Barrett via Robert Wyatt's plaintive animal-themed "Muddy Mouse" only criticism (and it's a minor niggle, really) is the LP could have done w/ more varied textures in places...when a banjo and mouth-harp come in at one point, the contrast really transported, yeah, maybe some different musical flavours would have been welcome here and there, but I know I'm being a glutton.


At 12:19 pm, Blogger Molly Bloom said...

I really, really love JN. She is fantastic.


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