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Joanna Newsom
Drag City Records

Classically trained harpist Joanna Newsom had aspirations at an early age to be a composer. Those ambitions have been met with two full-length albums, and any pre-existing questioning of her talent dissipates upon listening to Ys. Newsom is bolder, more honest, and yet manages to still be difficult to read. Newsom makes her listener work. She is a poet in the truest form. Speaking in allegories she uses analogies, and has often frequented her dictionary for perfect word usage. Her voice has matured, but still shrieks and shrills. The harp is as genius as ever, and it is in this mixture that Newsom has delivered a tapestry of beauty with different textures, colors and images.

Ys, which is pronounced "ees," rather than "Y" "S", takes its name from a mythical sunken city. The city and her album have many of the same themes running through each of the stories that are told. Within this album Newsom tells stories, some in a fable-like way and others shrouded in allegory. She manages to do this beautifully. How could she not? A fifty-five minute album with only five songs should easily give her enough time to tell her tales, and she utilizes every moment of it. Newsom has been quoted stating that this album is about one whole year in her life, and, in turn, it makes sense for necessity of not interrupting or cutting the stories up.

Some of the stories include a fable-esque story of "Monkey and Bear." The characters provided in the title safely live together in a farm until one convinces the other they need to be freed. The story quickly turns into the Monkey gaining the upper hand. Making the Bear humiliate himself by dancing for children so they can "pay the bills," Monkey pushes and pushes till Bear's self-worth is diminished and Monkey is left alone. Sounds pretty reminiscent of what could be a modern-day story.

"Only Skin" is the longest and perhaps the most beautiful track on the album. Newsom gets personal with her soul-searching in the sense that she questions, explores, and delves into many nuances of herself and how she interacts with men and herself. Her poetic lines once again make the listener work to unravel meanings. A great example of Newsom's artistry is this passage: "I have got some business out at the edge of town/Candy weighing both of my pockets down/'Till I can hardly stay afloat, from the weight of them/(and knowing how the common-folk condemn, What it is I do, to you, to keep you warm. Being a woman, being a woman.)" The juvenile image of candy intertwined with the adult imagery of sex brings the listener to a place where they can feel Newsom at war with the concept of her own sexuality.

Newsom's growth not only exists in the maturity of subject manner, but also orchestration. This album has a more "classical" feel in the sense that it has a free range and is not limited by following a pattern. Ys' predecessor, The Milk-Eyed Mender, tended to follow a more structured pop/rock pattern of chorus, verse, chorus. This time around, Newsom crafts her music sans predictability. The battle between the classically trained artist and an attempt at a pop artist is nonexistent. The execution of her performances provides a clear understanding that she is sure of the direction she wishes to go, and by the looks of it, she's headed in the right one.

-Teresa Moreno

Track Listing:
1. Emily
2. Monkey and Bear
3. Sawdust and Diamonds
4. Only Skin
5. Cosmia

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