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3.9 out of 5 stars 123 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 14, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A new Joanna Newsom album - Yes! Well actually, YS. You pronounce it "ees". YS is an unspeakably incredible 45 minute album that consists of 5 songs. YS is to Ms Newsom a dream collaboration between her voice and harp and an orchestra.

Joanna Newsom's voice--a piercing flutter that's pitched somewhere between Björk and a hand brake--is an acquired taste. But to the uninitiated, it's not nearly as impenetrable as her cosmic poetry or, for that matter, baroque music. The 24-year-old Californian harpist's second album is a five-track concept piece loosely based on its namesake, the mythological drowned city of the Bretons. We say "loosely" because she leaves plenty of room for digressions on meteoroids and birds flying into windows. While Ys was recorded by minimalist Steve Albini (Nirvana, PJ Harvey), it includes lush string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks (Brian Wilson) and the final mix was done by sonic experimentalist Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Tortoise). The result is an album that sounds unlike anything else. And despite containing spectacularly beguiling songs that stretch out past 15 minutes, every second seems to drip with magic. You certainly don't get that with Ashlee Simpson. --Aidin Vaziri
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 14, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Drag City
  • ASIN: B000I2K9M4
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,398 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
It is the rare album that invites virtually no comparisons with any work that has preceded it, just as Joanna Newsom fills an utterly unique musical niche. By training a classical harpist, most of her collaborations have been with alt-rock figures. Many classify her as a folk performer, but she generally eschews the folk scene to direct her music at indie rockers. For instance, she has been a member of two different alt-rock bands, while YS was recorded by indie rock uber producer Steve Albini, though the strings were arranged by multi-faceted genius Van Dyke Parks and produced by composer Jim O'Rourke. The latter three names alone should gesture at how difficult Newsom's music is to describe.

My first exposure to Joanna Newsom came through her previous solo album, THE MILK-EYED MENDER, which while similar to YS was far less ambitious and epic. YS is to THE MILK-EYED MENDER what Van Morrison's ASTRAL WEEKS was to BLOWIN' YOUR MIND, simultaneously an ambitious expansion of the possibilities in the previous work and an attempt to produce something truly epic and unique. And the comparison to Morris is apt. Although YS contains only five songs, it clocks in at over 50 minutes, but in those 50 minutes there are no instrumental breaks. The only other performer I know who has recorded several songs that were as long as the ones on YS and featured singing through their entire length is Van Morrison. The songs on YS don't sound like "Listen to the Lion," but it might be the closest musical equivalent.

These songs are epic, theatrical, and expansive. And the word "unique" can't be applied too sparingly. The instrumentation alone sets it apart.
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4 Comments 146 of 162 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Audio CD
I love this cd, and think it's one of the most beautiful, original works I've ever heard. The only problem is that my girlfriend hates it, and refuses to even sit in the same room if I'm playing it. How can this be?

Well first and foremost, it has to do with Newsom's voice. If you've never heard Joanna in action, I encourage you to stop reading this very minute and click on one of the songs above. Really. Do it. Because, chances are this will be the dealbreaker. The first time I heard a sample , I rated her voice in the bearable-to-slightly-intriguing range. Today, I'm rather fond of the way she warbles her poetic verses. But my girlfriend prefers nails on a chalkboard than to being within earshot, no matter how many times I try to subliminally influence her otherwise.

If you can get past Newsom's voice, the second hurdle requires making a mental commitment to listening to this cd at HOME. This is not the type of cd you can play at a party if you want to keep your friends. And the songs are much too long for the standard car ride unless you're anticipating traffic. So when you buy this disc, you need to mentally donate at least one hour of time to dressing up as Romeo or Juliet, laying down in a bean bag chair, and letting Newsom take you into another world. Well maybe you don't need to dress up, but it would really help with the ambiance.

If you can envision getting this far, I'd say this cd is a safe bet. The strings and instrumentation are outstanding, and you will no doubt come to admire the depth and breadth of each song. Each song starts off at a relatively slow pace before reaching a powerful crescendo that justifies the wait.
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2 Comments 39 of 43 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Audio CD
In the past couple of years, Joanna Newsom has been a well-kept secret. She was known by those who listen to Smog, Devendra Banhart, or the Pleased. You could catch the occasional review of The Milk-Eyed Mender on an alternative music magazine, or a video of her with Devendra, nothing more. Then, this album happened. Pitchfork gave it an outstanding 9.4 review. At the other end of the spectrum, Sasha Frere-Jones, of the New Yorker, wrote a glowing review. She is now a little-understood phenomenon, as the commonplace remarks about her music show, ie.: 1. that her voice [or music] is "an acquired taste"; 2. that she belong to the "Freak Folk" genre; 3. that she uses words like "inchoate" or "sassafras"; 3. that she sounds like Bjork. All of this proves that professional music critics are unimaginative losers, but does not illuminate Newsom's music. It's very hard to recommend an album like this, since it does not sound like anything I've heard. It's definitely not "baroque" like the Amazon official review states. And it's not certainly "freak folk", as Newsom herself repeats over and over. In fact, it's the opposite. While freak folk is repetitive and hypnotic, this music continuously changes melodies and rithmic signatures, and the lyrics require continued attention. Never in her records, concerts or interviews does Newsom sound like a stoned singer or a lovable primitive. She is in full control, like it or not. She openly complains about her voice being "untrained", but it is much richer, flexible and interesting than the often-quoted Bjork, who is inexplicably considered master of vocal technique.Read more ›
6 Comments 75 of 91 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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