Why is it, when folks are discussing the relative merits of the music of Joanna Newsom, the debate (and it will turn into a debate) invariably will center on her rather unique vocals?
In my humble opinion, she has a special voice and whilst it is true that it has certain affinity with the likes of Kate Bush. Bjork and Tori Amos, this quality sets her apart from the scores of female singers out there. Especially the way she squeaks (yes, squeaks) before she emphasizes a word or emotion. Amazing!
More than that, of course!
I mean, and the fact that she utilizes the harp as her main instrument and employs delightful, wondrous ornate and orchestral music to frame her whimsical and graphic lyrics.
“The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow/Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh/A little while later the Pharisees dragged comb through the meadow/Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?”
These are the words that begin the opening “Emily” and if anyone out there in cyberspace has any idea what Joanna is singing about, please let me know. Don’t matter to me as the lush strings and that voice combine to make this 12-minute epic beauty a pleasure throughout.
This 55-minute album contains only five songs but each track is an adventure buoyed by Newsom’s ambition, the elaborate arrangements of Van Dyke Parks and the symbiotic production of Steve Albini/Jim O’Rourke.
Not your typical pop fare by any means, Joanna – together with likeminded artists like Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith – forms an intriguing axis of what may be loosely terms as neu psych-folk where old-world patterns are invaded by modern day sensibility.
Thoroughly enlightening, Ys is proof that pop and rock music isn’t dead, it continues to evolve and I am certain that Joanna Newsom will be at the forefront. A+