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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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- I just sat back and soaked it in. On the second listening, without the distraction of reading, it really opened up for me. "Ys" has almost an Alice In Wonderland effect, but with a romantic longing for transcendence. In this case, seemingly a transcendence through connecting with nature. To appreciate "Ys" you have to let go of rationality - just allow yourself to be pulled into the undertow. There is much of a symbolic nature to uncover since the depth of the music, the words and Newsom's delivery act like a mirror held up to the psyche. I found that after listening to it again I began to feel at home in its otherworldly worldliness - the worldliness of terra firma, of nature, as seen from the perspective of the spirit world. It made me imagine myself a ghost visiting the beautiful valleys and woods where I had once walked, but now from a timeless perspective, seeing it from a heightened reality. Its a beautiful piece of work and Van Dyke Parks enrichens it greatly with his evocative orchestrations. Like many works of art that plumb mythic depths and don't draw within the lines of convention, this recording will probably be greeted by some with an immediate sense of revulsion, while others will open up to it and experience wonder. Its not "normal", of course, so some people will give it the knee-jerk label of "crazy". Thats too bad because its an open window into the imagination, and, in this case, not a frightening one but one that seems to welcome you in.
I admit that her voice on Milk-Eyed Mender was sometimes a tad bit grating, but her vocals on Ys is so interesting and complex--I can't seem to get tired of listening to it and discovering all the nuances. I especially love the uncontrolled high-pitched waves (like right before she starts singing on Only Skin). I know her voice has developed even more by now, but I hope she never loses those beloved squeaks. I feel I don't even need to comment on her intricate and accomplished harp-playing, anyone can tell you how great it is.
I really appreciate her decision to write long compositions which truly enables her to show off her complex musical capabilities and training. After hearing Joanna, it's really hard to sit through 3-chord rock bands which sound so amateur-ish in comparison.
I do wish that the recoding had put equal weight on the volume of the harp though--just as one can hear during her live shows on youtube (the one recorded in Philly on Nov 06 being the best example; please check that out if you're not sure about buying this album, then buy the album!). I can't wait for the new recording and tour!
While I enjoy Joanna Newsom's catalog in its entirety, 'Ys' is an album apart. She is, in my opinion, our greatest living songwriter and this is her greatest accomplishment.
Just getting around to purchasing the vinyl to add to my record collection for my new Crosley record player😉
But most importantly to me above all else, when I open my heart to the depth of feelings I experience when I listen to "Ys", I understand what it means to be human, to be a part of this vast universe, to feel love.
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Also a perfect record, but if you're buying this, I assume you already know that.