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Ys


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139 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the year's most amazing and original masterpieces
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...
Published on November 18, 2006 by Robert Moore

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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars File This Under Appreciate, But Don't Really Enjoy
Joanna Newsom, along with Van Dyke Parks and Steve Albini has produced a genuinely unique album that is like nothing that is being put out in the realm of popular music. Ys. is a an album filled with lush orchestration, some beautiful harp playing, and pages upon pages of cryptic lyrics about comets, and animals, and all sorts of other seemingly mundane things. And then...
Published on January 21, 2007 by billy


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139 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the year's most amazing and original masterpieces, November 18, 2006
This review is from: Ys (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. Newsom's astonishing harp dominates every track, supplemented magnificently with Parks's wonderful strings, but the oddest instruments can sometimes intrude, like the banjo that pops up in "Only Skin" or the Jew's harp in "Cosmia." Some listeners, especially indie rock fans, are going to have a problem with the overall sound. No drums, no guitars, no bass, only occasional keyboards, but a lot of harp and strings. The result isn't something you can dance to. It isn't even something that you can hum to yourself. But the five songs here contain universes of marvelous, quirky, delightful musical ideas.

The lyrics are perfectly suited to the music and are frequently compelling, if not quite as overwhelming as the music. All of the songs are very strong compositions, which is an absolute necessity when an album features only five of them. The one thing that some people have trouble with Joanna Newsom is her voice. I can fully sympathize with this, because it took me a long time to accustom my ears to her singing. Like everything else, her voice is more than a tad different. Some people compare it to a harsher version of Bjork, but while her voice possesses some of the childishness that one sometimes hears in Bjork, some other comparison always seemed to be more apt. To me, she sounds very much like a precocious child attempting to mimic Billie Holliday. Listen to the way she mouths "darling" in "Monkey & Bear" and tell me that doesn't sound like a talented child imitating Lady Blue. It took me quite a while before I actually liked Newsom's voice. It isn't in any traditional sense a good singing voice, but once one accustoms oneself to it, it seems perfectly suited to her music.

This isn't an album for anyone. It is a ferociously sophisticated work. For want of a better term, it might be termed Alt-Folk. I was praising this to my daughter who is in college in another state. She asked what I would compare the album to. I said the closest might be Lorena McKennitt, but in fact she sounds as much like Lorena McKennitt as the latter does to Dead Can Dance, which basically means it is a worthless comparison. If you are an adventurous listener, love exploring something that is truly unique and different, I heartily recommend this album. For me it is one of the musical highlights of the year.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joanna Newsom- Tearing Apart Couples Since 2004!, March 13, 2007
This review is from: Ys (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. Furthermore, there isn't a single dud on this album, which is rare for mosts discs these days(though it does only have 5 songs). However, if you can't get past the first two steps, I'd suggest you take my advice and stay clear of this one for your own sake and for the sake of your relationship (thanks Joanna).
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74 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outlier in popular music, December 2, 2006
By 
Giuseppe A. Paleologo "gappy" (Riverdale, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ys (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. Newsom's is the rare case of a educated musician who has truly internalized disparate influences (among them, West African harp tradition, Debussy and Satie, Celtic music, Appalachian folk, Joni Mitchell and Vashti Bunyan, the precision of Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore, but also the sustained story-telling of Robert Frost, and all of the 20th century american confessional poetry), and made them into something completely new, occupying the uneasy space between high and low culture. She rescues ancient words on the verge of oblivion, to evoke images that are both feverish and distant. This song of cycles is the musical equivalent of controlled nuclear fusion. It's a rare event to hear about meteorites and pleaiades with a sense of marvel and no trace of irony, or that "last week our picture window produced a half-word heavy and hollow". Is John Donne one of her ancestors? Did H.W. stop by Nevada City, a few decades ago?
What propels this record is the unerring sense of melody, and its close connection to lyrics that are both rhapsodic and narrative. The rich orchestral arrangements help and make for a distinctive record, but I feel that the record would have been equally good had she been accompanied by her harp alone. Newsom will not age like those second-rate classical pianists and groups repackaging classical influences in their fast-aging pop hits (who can listen to Emerson Lake and Palmer any more, or Tori Amos???). Twenty years from now, this music will be as interesting, ambitious and anachronistic as it is today.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars american beauty, May 25, 2007
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This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
This is the most ambitious album of the year. Joanna Newsom came out of the San Francisco music scene almost four years ago. She was involved with the Pleased and played with Devendra Banhart very much in the early days. There was always a more serious classical influence in her music. She studied with Terry Riley and is familiar with the Avant Garde traditions in music. I did an interview with her in June 2003. I saw some of her early performances. It was obvious that she was more than a novelty act. When her first album came out she moved from the Banhart/Vetiver world to the Smog/Will Oldham world. Whole groups of people on the Internet were fascinated with Joanna Newsom. They thought she was some disembodied spirit. All these agendas were formed about what her music was about. Joanna herself was upset with some of notions that she was childlike. She said, "I am not innocent." Now we have the real album that she really wanted to do. From album artwork to the songs themselves: everything seems focus, arty, and blind ambitious. Of course this doesn't still to well with Joanna fans. They complain about the length of the songs. They are upset that certain "songs" are only one part of a longer song. The first song "Emily" is much like a song off of Milk-Eyed Mender. It's not we get to "Monkey & Bear" do we get a bit of the new sound. Van Dyke Parks is all over this. The vocals have a new maturity about them. "Sawdust & Diamonds" seems like the most narrative song, and the least musical. Much of this album is about the loss of the past. Dreams, memories, and animals float in and out of consciousness. Probably the most complex and difficult song is "Only Skin." This is an amazing record. It's like a whole other musical language. It's a record by the most original American musician now making music.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and Amazing, March 14, 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
I first heard 'Monkey and Bear' while on a long drive in the dark. I was quite struck with wonder at the beguiling lyrics and unusual voice of Joanna Newsom (Kind of a cross between Bjork and Karen Peris of the 'Innocence Mission'). I barely noticed that the song had stretched out past 10 minutes. Her lyrics are so fluid and compelling, unlike any I've heard before. They have a story-telling quality that Loreena Mckennit often envisions, but with a hefty dash of the beautiful strangeness Tori Amos has. Her harp combined with the string arrangements are lovely and haunting. After I bought this album I heard that all her songs have amazing lyrics and such beautiful music. If I had to categorize her I'd loosely put her in the 'Fairy Tale Folk' genre.

With this album Joanna Newsom has reached into a next level of music and the magnitude of the beauty and wonder that she causes is staggering. Best album i've heard in years.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Unique and All the More Precious For It., March 27, 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
It's not very often that an album comes along that defies categorisation and more rarely that it seems impossible even to trace its influences and origins.This is such an album.

I can't remember the last time I heard an album that seemed to reinvent the possibilities in music itself. I'd like to say it's a ground-breaking album but the style is too of itself, creating its own hermetically sealed universe into which we can teleport;so it's hard to see it having much influence on the wider musical world.

I recommend if at all possible that you try and listen to the album in a distraction free environment (yes I'm talking talking darkened room, phone off-the-hook) it's worth the effort.

Some reviewers refer to the several listens it takes to get in to the album, I found it took about a minute and a half.

Is it folk, prose-poetry,classical or just great pop music? There are perhaps elements of all.

A lot is sometimes made of how unusual her voice is, but to to be honest it is more distinctive than strange and it would be fair to say that her singing has become richer and more resonant than on her earlier works.

The album opens with Emily a song so rich in imagery and strong in melody it would justify the purchase of the album on its own, conjuring visions of meteorites, skimming stones and raging seas.The stories continue through out the five extended pieces, the orchestral arrangements by Van Dyke Parks contribute greatly to the feel of the work, at times darting in and out like fish, at others swooping and soaring like birds around the central core of harp and voice.

So rich is the sound created by that combination of harp and voice that it was only on seeing her live that I realised that "Sawdust and Diamonds" features no orchestration.

The thing that strikes me most about this music is richness of its melodic content, this makes it far more accessible than you might expect.

Allow this music into your heart and it can transport you into other times and places and leave you with an aching sense of loss when you have to leave.

Buy this album if you love music but aren't afraid to embrace something truly different.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars File This Under Appreciate, But Don't Really Enjoy, January 21, 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
Joanna Newsom, along with Van Dyke Parks and Steve Albini has produced a genuinely unique album that is like nothing that is being put out in the realm of popular music. Ys. is a an album filled with lush orchestration, some beautiful harp playing, and pages upon pages of cryptic lyrics about comets, and animals, and all sorts of other seemingly mundane things. And then you hear her voice. She sounds like an old lady, or Lisa Simpson, or somewhere in between. After close to an hour of hearing her screech out cryptic lyrics over some pleasant orchestration, my patience began to wane.

Here is my problem with this album. I can admire the harp playing, the orchestration, and even the lyrics, but her voice just gets to me. Now I know i'm suppose to let this album sit for a while and let it sink in, and then i'm suppose to have some grand epiphany on the 15th listen about how great it is. I haven't listened to it 15 times, but I have given it a good 3 or 4 uninterrupted listens, and her voice hurts my ears. I can't enjoy this music with her warbling voice.

But I can file this under something that I appreciate for it's artistry and ambition, but I don't really care for myself. It is also a bit to much like a Rennaisance Fair for my tastes and the orchestration can move in to the territory of a soundtrack to a Disney movie on occasions.

It's hard for me to say that Ys. should be completely avoided. I suggest downloading Emily if you can and seeing how that song suites you. If you like it, then you'll like the rest of the album, if not, then don't waste your money on this album.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars i am stopped., February 20, 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
I am stopped. bewildered and beguiled. I instinctively grope towards the music that stirs and moves me, and have done so ever since i laid my hand on a Nina simone album at 15 without knowing who she was and was silenced in a moment of personal musical discovery, one of the greatest feelings ever for a music lover. And so has been the discovery of Newsom on YS.

This music is not supposed to be easily digestible, or "accessible". It is the final product of a singular vision seen through to glorious results. It is not meant to be sampled. It is meant to be listened to from start to finish. How can you not admire someone who has crafted something that can never be played on the radio, or made a music video out of to be televised. Imagine being this young with this much vision, focus and scrupulous craft for the written and then sung word. ("I wasn't born of a whistle or milked from a thistle at twilight/No I was all horns and thorns/Sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright")

I am glad there are people that find her unlistenable, excruciating, pretentious. Makes it an all the more sweet secret society to enter into and close the door behind you, leaving outside the frivolity of today's music, (even the good stuff seems trivial after listening to YS) and nestle in a world where the altar sits firmly upon the soil and the stars blaze above.

All i know is I cannot stop listening to it, It has a magnetic charge that pulls me to it, again and again. And it only grows more astounding with each listen. It is so wonderful that it exists in the world.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary!, March 27, 2007
By 
D. Ellisgreen (Santa Fe, New Mexico USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
This is simply one of the most extraordinary recorded works I have ever encountered. I have found that the more time I give it, the more it rewards each listen. I have a similar experience listening to Joanna that I have when I listen to Kate Bush or Judee Sill - it's as though I am catching glimpses of a beautiful (and sometimes scary) private world. Highly personal and yet inscrutable. Utterly unique. And when I start listening to her, it is very hard to listen to anyone else.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only Skin, January 23, 2007
By 
Sage Turk (Portland, OR) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
It was inevitable that anything produced by Joanna Newsom would result in the tired "I don't like her voice...this is terrible" vs. "It's an aquired taste and it's fantastic" argument. Suffice it to say...if you have sought this album out based on what you've heard from Newsom before, chances are you'll be moved by it's brilliance. If you've had it recommended, or seen the glowing reviews, and decided to give it a chance...save your money. It takes alot more than curiosity to appreciate or even tolerate Joanna Newsom's alternate universe fairytale music.

If you want to enjoy this album, but haven't heard Newsom's music or much maligned voice before, please seek out her previous album, Milk Eyed Mender and give it as many spins as you can. If the shock can subside, if the clouds of irritance can part and you allow the warm rays of her absurdly beautiful music to light upon you....you're ready to take the full plunge. Milk Eyed Mender was Newsom's attempt to shine her music on our ugly world. Ys is her grabbing our wrists and pulling us headfirst into hers.

Many of the worlds most enjoyable experiences are the results of "aquired taste". There's something thrilling about leaving behind all semblances of common ground and allowing yourself to be lead through the looking glass. If you're not ready for that, if you're not quite ready to be placed in what amounts to an inverse-sensory-deprivation tank....then stay far far away. There's plenty of music out there that doesn't require an extensive paradigm shift to enjoy.
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Ys
Ys by Joanna Newsom (Audio CD - 2006)
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