[My Gang] Joanna Newsom - Easy : Reco of the Week 9 March 2010


Mar 9 2010, 19:29

Track: Easy
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Album: Have One on Me (1 Mar 10)
Tags: , , , , ,
Video: Click the pic...

YouTube, audio upload

If you made your mind up about Joanna Newsom on the release of her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and decided against, you won't be reading this. If, on the other hand, you kept an open mind, particularly after Ys, then, hello. And me, too.

Ys didn't charm me on first listen. If anything, I listened to form an opinion, made my snap decision - nah - and moved on. It wasn't till a little while later that I found I couldn't get one of the melodies out of my head and, almost against my will, I went back to have a closer listen. I still can't say it's one of my favourite albums but it is one of the most perplexing. Technically, there isn't much that I like about it, except that she plays a harp, the music is clever and the melodies pretty. I was still turned off by her apparent arrogance, her "untrainable" voice, her affected manner. And she seemed to be trying too hard with the overly wordy lyrics.

My reco this week is the first track, Easy, from her new album, Have One on Me. This is how she opens the door to her new world. It's like the Alice in Wonderland of albums; the beauty is otherworldly. Her voice, damaged by her old style of singing, doesn't catch or squeak like it used to. Now, though still challenging, she's more polished, mature and easier on the ear.

That sounds damning - it's not. Her voice has moved closer to Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell than anyone else. She sings not from the diaphragm so much as around the chest and throat and very occasionally up through her nose. The pitch and register are still high though thankfully, she doesn't strangle any sounds, which for me would render her unlistenable. She does, however, experiment with how much air she permits, and where. For instance, No Provenance gets quite breathy at times, constricting the air at others, sounding almost traditional Chinese.

Refined and restrained, she has kept the naif quality she had before of the untrained mediaeval folk singer. It's a little sharp and not the kind of voice that I am usually drawn to. There is also the knowledge her once-free voice is now being forced to be contained, and you can hear it, chomping at the bits, wanting to break free. The effort she exerts to control her power adds a new dimension and you feel sad for her that she even has to; another delicate layer to the others, like millefeuille.

There is no official video for this track yet. I decided to pick the one with lyrics simply because I enjoyed reading them as I listened.

She says Have One on Me is “earth and dirt, very grounded”. The 18 songs come in at just over two hours, covering three CDs. Some of the songs are as long as they were on Ys, though most are a minute or two shorter. The harp isn't as prominent or as intricate as it was before, allowing other instruments to come to the fore, and there's a better balance between lyrics and music. The range is varied but in keeping with each other, so the wonderfully moving Esme isn't lost among the newer songs. There is a live version of this track in YouTube, from 2007 which is more baroque in its delivery. The album version is as soft as a lullaby.

I urge you to sit comfortably, or better still, lie down, before you put the new album on. It's so beautiful, you will sigh, melt then collapse in a heap. Then for the next two hours, you won't move. You won't want to.

Her love of baroque, colour and detail continues in the cover art for the album - a disorderly jumble with each item deliberately placed.

We have barely completed the first quarter of the year and already there are a fair number of outstanding, unique albums to listen to and digest, but now I've stumbled down the rabbit hole, I'm kind of reluctant to leave. It's her masterpiece.

Further reading:
The Times, 20 Feb 10, The conversation: Joanna Newsom
The Guardian, 27 Jan 10, Joanna Newsom announces triple album

Babs My Gang

Reco of the Week archives

Disclaimer: Mines

Admin: Stats as of today:

Last.fm listeners of this track - 19,437
No. of plays scrobbled in Last.fm - 52,173
Position in Last 7 Days: 1 / 9,973
Position in Last 6 Months: 84 / 67

Date Added: February 22, 2010
Views: 6,106, Ratings: 24, Comments: 13, Favourited: 46 times

Stats after 7 days:

Last.fm listeners of this track - 23,179
No. of plays scrobbled in Last.fm - 68,778
Position in Last 7 Days: 1 / 7,742
Position in Last 6 Months: 84 / 67

Views: 9,061, Ratings: 30, Comments: 15, Favourited: 57 times

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  • rwitte

    A nice argument, well put! I can see where your comparisons come from but I don't sing, so I have no idea if your physiological diagnosis is right (or even meaningful) . I do find her music intriguing ... I just don't yet know whether I actually like it.

    Mar 11 2010, 20:19
  • Babs_05

    Well, it's not really an argument as such - I just described what I hear. I can sing (after a fashion) and I can mimic the sounds she makes, but I don't know all my terminology so I'm happy to learn from someone who does. I kind of found myself caught up in it because, whilst listening, it was the thing that fascinated me most. I didn't get to the music, which is like the TARDIS, covering time and space. It travels back in time as much as it does across the globe. It's a whole other analysis. And then the lyrics, I barely touched them too. I was mindful this is the internet and articles should only be so long, so I focused it on the singing. Plus after the hours I put in, I was exhausted and couldn't write more anyway! Thanks for reading. If you're intrigued thus far, maybe you'll find yourself giving her a chance. It's what I did.

    Mar 11 2010, 23:36
  • MrLark

    very good review. i heard she had nodules on her throat and was advised to restrain her voice or risk losing it. I really really love Milk Eyed Mender, but never quite got on with Ys.

    Mar 15 2010, 10:18
  • Babs_05

    Thanks, MrLark. :)

    Mar 15 2010, 16:02
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