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
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
"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
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.
2. Monkey and Bear
3. Sawdust and Diamonds
4. Only Skin
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