Joanna Newsom

Drag City
Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2006-11-06

Posted 11/06/2006 - 08:09:47 AM by florenz6:
 I lived with this music for quiet a while now. It´s a grower. You won´t have any chance to judge the music by listening to it while doing the washing-up. It´s one of those records that requires nightime, candles, stillness at least. Before my first listening I was a bit sceptical about Van Dyke Parks. Great works a long time ago, but with years going by, he seemed to develop a more conservative approach.The old fairytale-man, something like that! But his input is fantastic. And the mixing von O´Rourke adds to it - the orchestrations never overpower the textures of the voice and the harp. I was expecting something interesting, but not this kind of masterpiece. The vocal performances are extremely raw and intense. Even if you´re not a native Englsh speaker, you can be blown away by the drama and richness of her storytelling (-singing) techniques! Along with Scott Walker´s "The Drift", "Ys" is a highlight of 2006, full of a broad palette of emotions and never-before-heared things! This will always be one of my 100 favourite records! And share the company of "Another Green World", "Hejira", "Laughing Stock", "The Survivor´s Suite", "Kid A", "Cuckooland", "Bright Red" and "Spring Hill Fair" (...)
Posted 11/06/2006 - 08:50:17 AM by fleezer:
 most loathesome album this year
Posted 11/06/2006 - 09:16:06 AM by nhennies:
 At what point was The Arcade Fire ever the best indie had to offer? Or by "best" do you mean "most popular"?
Posted 11/06/2006 - 10:02:59 AM by meatbreak:
 Fleezer, if you think this is loathsome then you would probably have guessed that before listening to it. Ergo, my guess is you haven't heard it, so why comment? I expect plenty of uninformed swipes at this album and a lot of aggressive dislike of the whole concept. But I bet half those people have Pet Sounds in their collection and as equally blindly proclaim it genius. Florenz is right, this album contains some completely unique curios of composition and this is probably one of Van Dyke Parks’ most enriched works. Just listen to the detail in accompaniment to the rhythms of that harp! Similarly, I was skeptical of the three big names involved with this, but Albini gets a beautiful direct rawness from Newsom’s vocal performance and O’Rourke’s mix is perfect, really. The Milk Eyed Mender was interesting and striking, mostly due to Newsome’s voice, but that’s been toned down somewhat in this, seemingly to make room for the inspired instrumentation going on around her. I didn't think I'd love this as much as I do either.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 10:05:53 AM by meatbreak:
 P.S> nhennies - you're shitting me if you never thought Arcade Fire were something special. They were the best indie had to offer for most of 2005 until the Arctic Monkeys showed up and realigned peoples perceptions away from the mystery and romanticism in the stars and back to the puke and grease of the bars and chip shops of urban England. Great.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 10:21:24 AM by nhennies:
 I know it's hard to imagine that there are people out there who may not enjoy Arcade Fire or Arctic Monkeys. Try and get some sleep tonight nonetheless.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 11:08:46 AM by meatbreak:
 Be constructive.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 11:34:46 AM by :
 Meatbreak, that was the most hilarious abuse of the word "ergo" I've ever read.

Florenz, ich war ein bißchen überrascht, dass Sie dieses Album so vergnüglich finden. Sie zerstören meinen deutschen Fetisch. Halt, Bitte!

Posted 11/06/2006 - 11:44:47 AM by meatbreak:
 Was ist loß? Yeah, well, to be honest I don't know how to use that word because I hate it. I don't know why I did. How lazy of me. Why can't Germans like Joanna Newsom then Jess? Not enough leather? What if she played her harp with a paddle?
Posted 11/06/2006 - 12:02:04 PM by :
 No, I thought it was a brilliant thing to say. "Hermetically sealed set of assumptions", ERGO, I am right about my blind castigation of who you MUST be aesthetically and will go ahead pass judgment on how relatively worthy you are of the air you breathe. I do it all the time. Joanna Newsom ist so ein Schade. Wenn sie mittelalterlich Musikerin machen, sie sollte Trommelmaschinen und viel schreien haben-- und, ja, Lederwaren und Ketten tragen.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 12:04:23 PM by :
 ich will sagen "Musik" machen
Posted 11/06/2006 - 12:09:08 PM by meatbreak:
 Are repeating back to me what you thought I said (the bit, auf englische)? Is it not safe to assume that a one line dismassal may be the result of preformed predjudices, rather than at least one listen? Probably not if he hates it and can't be bothered to waste time writing why he hates it. I'd want to read something more informed than the one line though. Tschus!
Posted 11/06/2006 - 12:51:50 PM by :
 The cover alone is a good enough reason to hate it.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 01:14:47 PM by florenz6:
  Ich zerstöre deinen deutschen Fetisch, Jess?! Keine Lust mehr auf den Dom und den Markt, das Venedig-Feeling am Rhein?! Welche Ironie - meine Lieblingsstadt ist London! Ich wohne dort meist in Earls´ Court. Gehe gern bei Khan´s indisch essen (Westbourne Grove). Das Interieur ist kitschig, das Essen großartig! Ich bin ein Fan indischer Küche, Köln ist da eher spärlich ausgestattet. Bei meiner letzten Londonreise war ich bei einer unter-die-Haut-gehenden Ausstellung von Bill Viola und habe fast einen halben Tag in den dunklen Räumen einer ehemaligen Schule verbracht. Abends dann im Luminaire´s - great venue -: die Sharalambides und Pumajaw. Richtig gut! P.S. Joanna möchte keine mittelalterliche Musik machen, daher bedient sie auch keine damit in Zusammenhang stehenden Klischees! P.P.S. Lesenswert (für Menschen, denen diese Musik etwas bedeutet!) das unredigierte Interview auf der Website vom Wire Magazine. P.P.P.S. Aber jetzt ist erst mal Köln angesagt am Wochenende - Sufjan Stevens und Supersilent. So long, Florenz6!
Posted 11/06/2006 - 02:06:09 PM by :
 Ich war nur etwas in Ernst, Florenz. Du hast zu viel Glück :p Ich wuensche, dass ich ein Weltreise nach London, Koeln, Vienna, Nordwestphalen noch einmail machen konnte.

Sollten Musikerinnen versuchen dieses Klischee zu fliehen? Also, Meschen wuerden hoeren sie in vollem Ernst? Achh so, meine Sprachlehre ist scheisse. Aber verstehst du mich?

Posted 11/06/2006 - 02:18:05 PM by florenz6:
 The cover alone...nah, c´mon, Jess! It all belongs to the surface structure of signs and suggestions - it seems so whimsical at first sight, but the cover, too, wins with time. It signals strangeness, ancient times, otherworldliness. Going to the details might even be more rewarding. So this would be a good idea for a new Stylus column - the really strange cover art of great albums, something like that. One might think of the covers of "Spirit Of Eden", "Ruth is Stranger Than Richard", "Live Evil", "The Colors of Chloe" etc. P.S. What I´m really happy about (as a music lover and music journalist) is, that "YS" gets so many fantastic reviews in the international press. A huge resonance - and this is something very special for such a masterpiece!
Posted 11/06/2006 - 02:29:24 PM by :
 Yeah, those signs seem to point straight to the nearest Renaissance fair. And/or D&D tournie.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 02:29:53 PM by mikepowell:
 two things-- yes, the Arcade Fire thing was to say that it was, for better or worse, the indie record that basically "rose above" in the public eye. not saying I liked it--I thought it was okay--but I *am* saying that it's nice to see a record like Ys or the TVotR basically takeover as what will likely be the most visible indie records of the year. secondly: florenz, we did try to write that cover art column. it kinda tanked. oh well.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 02:57:04 PM by axiomatic:
 two things, mike, one good, one bad 1. concentrating on the actual album, for better or worse, is a reviewing technique i highly recommend - rather than extending upon the context, history, cataloguing, etc., of the work of art itself. stick to your object. 2. other than that admittedly significant reservation about the review, it's a damn fine piece of work. exceptionally well-written. great style, great tone, great diction.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 03:07:17 PM by :
 axiomatic is right-- though with the way things work, it's too fair a work and too keen in its observation of JN's excesses to make for great press kit pull quotes. mike makes an argument for ys that almost makes me want to hear it, even if i'd never like it. i mean, if it's really so production conscious. is it really?
Posted 11/06/2006 - 03:15:32 PM by mikepowell:
 axiomatic: Meh, I thought I gave plenty of play to both context and object itself, but I do appreciate the fact that your comments have come, more or less, in full sentences.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 03:44:53 PM by axiomatic:
 there's just so much that needs to be said about the songs THEMSELVES, and the frenzied nature of newsom's playing style, and the significant interplay of her imagery and metaphors. i felt should be mentioned. let's chock it up to personal difference, at least. i certainly don't mind context, and you definitely educated me when it comes to the production (something which very few reviewers mention, and something that is especially crucial to this album). but you can say a million different things about the arcade fires of the world, the hipsters and their chosen idols, the construction of the packaging itself, Kate Bush, etc., but the best choice, in my opinion, is going to be discussing the songs. i'm not trying to say that you're wrong about your analysis of the album. i agree with nearly everything you say - i just feel like there's more to be said about the actual artistic object itself. i realize you've waxed quite poetic about the cyclic structures and elegant production, but how many people are going to read this review and glean a good understanding of specific songs (i know, i know, they're supposed to listen to them)? but then, i suppose it's a difference of metacritical aims - my desire with a review is to give the audience an idea of what it sounds like without actually having them hear it. to slog through the crap and let the cream rise. but hell, everybody and their web-footed cousin will be listening to this album anyway so perhaps it doesn't matter. but that's my logic.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 03:49:46 PM by Zarklephaser:
 I haven't yet heard the album (as I'm a strict buyer, not a downloader), but this is one of the best music reviews that I have read all year - on Stylus and elsewhere.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 04:27:31 PM by :
 the first paragraph especially
Posted 11/06/2006 - 05:44:13 PM by meatbreak:
 Graves, you are quite the antagonist. But Axiomatic - I don't want to read a review and have someone try and give me a note by note breakdown of the album so I can reassemble it in my head. I want someone to come along and illuminate it from certain angles, and draw a personality or perspective out of it. I want to read how it makes them question why they continue to listen to it halfway through the first song. Any fool can describe a sound.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 05:55:01 PM by raskolnikov:
 I like dysentery better than Jonna Newsom. You know--the type of dysentery that is blood-drenched, explosive, purgative, and sullen in its persistent and disgusting liquidity. I find that condition to be more pleasant how I feel when I'm listening to Joanna and her harp and her mewling. I also enjoy chewing buboes and swallowing the pus from infected knife wounds more than listening to her music. Additionally, I derive more joy from mixing my own excrement into my food than I do from listening to her. I thank you, Stylus, for this forum and for my chance to express my feelings about this important and vital artist.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 07:34:32 PM by diggles:
 I'll be honest, I read the comments on stylus half the time just to read what raskolikosifjalskjl;jg has to say. and a lot of times he's right about the indie world, which has become disgusting
Posted 11/06/2006 - 07:39:07 PM by keyinblack:
 Hey, ax in the fac—er, raskolnikov. Have you actually listened to this new album or are you prematurely preparing yourself to embellish (unsupported and poorly) about the wrongs of music in this generation?
Posted 11/06/2006 - 09:29:57 PM by motelmoka:
 Not to inflate his already over-inflated ego but raskolnikov's comments are genius. Stylus should consider asking him to review for them.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 09:46:32 PM by :
 Meatbreak; sound description requires a sallow mix of technical proficiency AND metaphorical litotes, their abstractions are designed-in, and travel intensively like wind over the surface of their objects, mixing in the contours of half-baked nomenclature or swirling around their base ideals like needles on plastic. If that is what you prefer in musical brokerage - the sound, then as time is infinitely divisible, so the sound barrier too cannot only not be broken, but must reform to a set of rules, for which language repeats ad-simulacrum. Jus` sayin is all.
Posted 11/06/2006 - 09:55:21 PM by dioxido:
 Wow, so many comments. and almost none about the album! Which I find great. For me it's an A. I'm in love with Joanna Newsom's songs.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 12:05:39 AM by :
 Meatbreak, I wasn't being sarcastic when I said first paragraph was really good writing. Rask seems to be living up to its prophecy. Anyhow I just had a friend over who has Ys and made a point of listening to it. Boy, was I disappointed. Not because it was bad, or unlistenably concepty, but because it was so quiet and nice and easy to listen to, new age pretty but too tasteful to revile. If this seems overly dense with fantasy, and baroque to the point of being ridiculous, your eardrums would burst if you spent five minutes in the general vacinity of my apartment. Garlands makes this sound like Carly Simon. It's pastoral. The harp playing is minimal, I would say the opposite of overperformed--classical harp is lush and overloaded with overtones. The Kate Bush comparison and the prog idea had me ready for a much higher level of technical proficiency and where are the cool early Renaissance scales and intervals? In fact, I've changed my mind. The cover might be the better part. It's really the sum total of the album's anticipated awesomely grotesque batshit insanity. The production is typical Albini anti-lush brand alternabland. I don't think my grandma wouldn't mind if I played this in her Lincoln Town Car on the way to go Christmas shopping.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 12:56:48 AM by dougrokakis:
 Will someone please review something off of Southern Lord or Load and keep Raskalnikov happy? God forbid that you ever try and review something without the guitars turned up to eleven and plenty of screaming or distorted howling. Stylusmagazine is obviously made up of people that like to promote "gay" music but I'll still come here everyday to express my narrow minded opinion in hopes that I can change the minds of each and every individual reader on here. One day you will all see the error in your ways.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 02:37:36 AM by keyinblack:
 I usually enjoy his/her comments too, motelmota, but this one wasn't even particularly clever (oh ha ha, shit compared to music) or expressive of his ongoing diatribe about modern music and vegetated consumers. It's just uninspired iconoclasm.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 03:17:25 AM by florenz6:
 #4 album of the year: "A baroque pop masterpiece" - "Behind the astonishing album lies her ambition, her bloodied stamina" (UNCUT ALBUM OF THE MONTH FIVE STARS) "A truly life changing album" - (FIVE STARS GUARDIAN) "Joanna has created a work whose startling originality could, like "Astral Weeks" or "Horses" before, set a new musical standard for a generation..." (Sean O´Hagan OBSERVER) "It is Newsom´s voice that provide the stunning balm of this strange beauty together." (MOJO - FOUR STARS) "Newsom establishes herself as one of the true visionaries currently working in American music. If you claim you´ve heared anything like it before, then you´re a liar. And if you´re looking for an album to lose yourself in over the winter hibernation period, you´ve come to the right place." (NME) "Utterly entrancing" (Q Magazine) "Ys is immense in scope, recalling the Beach Boy´ "Smile" or Van Morrison´s "Astral Weeks", an epic sonic voyage across five orchestral tracks" (TIME OUT) I don´t have any problems with anyone who doesn´t like this album at all. What I don´t like at all, is this arrogant attitude of people who have difficulties with tolerance. And using disgusting language thinking that might be cool. Some of the reactions remind me of this clown in our class who liked publically pissing in his pants. P.S. Jess, make your grandma happy! Dein Deutsch war etwas seltsam, ich hab es es nicht so ganz verstanden, aber du erschienst seltsam verwundbar, sehr sensibel! P.P.S. Meatbreak, I think, you´re fighting with windmills here! Good day, and good luck!
Posted 11/07/2006 - 04:19:12 AM by Hone_Heke:
 God help us, are you so desperate for writing work you have to not only login here every day and regale us with your favourite artists, but then actually tell us you're another empty straw in the burnt out pile of overly zealous utterly bereft of humour musical hacks littering Europe? Your mean spirited quashing of other people's comments is the same old same old hypocritic line that gets pushed on here by opinion nazis and typo-police the networld over. Worse, you're like a little chihuahua constantly trying to jump up on the laps of commenters you like and lick their hands and chops, and the worser than worse part is that rarely does anyone stop to give you two cents of their time! "Ooo Oooh play with me, yeah, huhuh? C'mon, I'll debate witcha! Me, I'm a hack, I know my shit, I give good fight danke spanke!" Not saying yer a bad writer, a decent writer frustrated by elsewhere's lack of attention. Stick to the music and try and get that joke bypass operation done soon. Nerdess.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 04:51:55 AM by meatbreak:
 Zarklephaser: your puritanical tone is misplaced and somewhat naive ("I'm a strict buyer, not a downloader") - you are assuming everyone here who has heard this album already has theived it off the internet. Not so in my case, and not seemingly in Florenz's case either - and I take it you don't approve of downloading. This is another debate entirely, but really, get down off your horse.

Elsewhere - Graves, I dispute that Albini production is bland, pretty much anything but and on this album he's doen a great job - are you telling me the Cocteau Twins would blow my mind? Seriously? Oh dear. I never said Ys was some kind of epiphany, just that it is very beautiful and interesting, surprisingly so because what I was expecting was a slight advance from her debut with more abrasive mewling and slightly thicker production. No wonder you are underwhelmed if you were expecting some Italian Renaissance waltzes and even then, you've got to admit that there's a tangible element of that in it. And Disexists - thanks for repeating what I said in typically impenetrable form.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 09:19:29 AM by :
 CT wouldn't blow your mind, and this isn't a bad album. It's just nowhere near as weird as I was hoping.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 09:20:48 AM by :
 Albini himself says he tries to edit himself sonically out of the production process, that he's a "sound engineer", not a producer. 1) Can't be done. 2) Why? Enough said about that.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 09:28:53 AM by :
 Why is the music in my head always so much better than the kind you can buy at the store, Meatbreak? Why, God?
Posted 11/07/2006 - 09:58:12 AM by ppohio:
 ^^^ Comment of the week. A question for the ages indeed. "Why, Meatbreak? Why, God?"
Posted 11/07/2006 - 11:04:00 AM by meatbreak:
 What Albini tries to do is let the band get on with the playing and noise making while he records exactly what he hears without twiddling too many knobs. Really, there shouldn't be too much else to do (see last weeks Top 50 for that conversational meltdown). The music in your head is better than that in the racks because it hasn't had the limitaions of flesh and blood trying to replicate it. The mind is willing but the body is weak. Have you ever tried to record the music in your head through the tedious medium of instruments and studio? I think some bands are pretty damn good at recreating what they set out to (Radiohead, Graves, Radiohead!! hehehe.)

ppohio - can I make that into a bumper sticker?
Posted 11/07/2006 - 11:33:43 AM by :
 yeah i have. the bigger problem than the flesh being weak is the money being tight. or maybe the money IS tight because the flesh is weak.
Posted 11/07/2006 - 11:37:05 AM by florenz6:
 A warm welcome for Honey-Heckey! Excuse me, I´m answering so late, but I was looking for some attention in my local coffee shop. As far as I understand you, you wanna know some more of my fave albums. Don´t have the time now, cause I wanna lick Meatbreak´s hands for his last, really witty reaction to obviously weird questions:) - are you hearing voices, too, in your head, Jess? You know these dreams, where something obviously highly important is chanelled to you, and in the morning, when you wake up, it´s just a not-so-sweet-nothing?! Some tri-sexists-mumbling, sort of...fragments of a Paris Hilton song...or Carly Simon singing "You´re so vain" with 12rpm. Good night, and good lick!
Posted 11/07/2006 - 12:06:15 PM by :
 I'd bet my entire grad student loan debt on the fact that Joanna Newsom has a trustfund. A nice, deep, hedgefundy one.
Posted 11/08/2006 - 12:14:43 AM by Hone_Heke:
 :) oh how much more pleasure we take from being hated on than agreed with
Posted 11/08/2006 - 06:40:36 AM by florenz6:
 RE: No problem, Honey-Jacky! But you really have luck:I have a bit of time to tell you about another favourite record of mine: It´s "Colossal Youth" from the Young Marble Giants; a gem from the early Rough Trade years. i´m sorry for you I have to leave this platform for at least a week, cause a writer´s block is on its way! And (as if this would not be enough) I´m geting already nightmares about waiting hours and hours in Heathrow next week! But at least Joanna is on my discman - that will make time more easy to handle, I think! Best wishes from the Renaissance Fair!
Posted 11/08/2006 - 09:27:25 AM by :
 Thanks for telling us about YMG, Florenz. I'm sure no one here's heard them, ever.
Posted 11/08/2006 - 09:45:00 AM by florenz6:
 RE: Jess, just one note before I leave (you know, Cologne etc.) This was a personal message for Honey, the new clown in town. Well, in general, less people than you think have heared of YMG. This was not for the well-informed-in-crowd of independant music tastes. I mean what an epiphany, if someone who thought/thinks about Oasis or Keane or Timberlake as something groundbreaking, suddenly hears - out of nowhere - Allison Statton. Might be life-changing:) Where´s your sense for well-fitting irony? Your wit has already been sharper! if you´re in the mood for answering, beware, my next Stylus vivit doesn´t happen before next Wednesday. A lot of time to sharpen your tongue! And play YS to your Grandma (as you told us)- make her really happy! The Renaissance Fair Comission
Posted 11/08/2006 - 10:14:50 AM by :
 I'm sure you could pick up a wifi signal at Heathrow.
Posted 11/08/2006 - 02:28:08 PM by :
 "with Hydrocephalitic listlessness ants mop up-a their brow." how whimsical, to talk about ants, who have nothing like the frontal or prefrontal cortex of a human, or really any brain to compare to our maladaptively enlarged organ, with a condition that wrecks havoc on humans and can lead to seriously debilitating chronic conditions including cerbral palsy. "listlessness"? no, darling, that's called permanent brain damage. look up the lyrics, raskolnikov. similar to what would happen if a 9th grader found and read a stanza of Byron, then typed a bunch of words into a "poetry" generator. you'll piss yourself.
Posted 11/08/2006 - 03:21:55 PM by raskolnikov:
 I've pissed myself twice today already...first when my daughter threw up all over me this morning, and then next when Donald Rumsfeld resigned. Might as well go for three times, then, Jess....
Posted 11/08/2006 - 07:14:18 PM by diggles:
 Young Marble Giants aren't really THAT obscure, anyone that was into indie-rock in the 80s has heard them ... I was turned on to them by a radio station that was giving away all their LPs, of which a few were YMG.
Posted 11/08/2006 - 07:16:31 PM by diggles:
 on second thought the younger internet generation probably needs to know about them, so props for the mention (I'm just bored at work)
Posted 11/09/2006 - 10:52:47 AM by :
 why, diggles? can't they just listen to all the demons YMG spawned, like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura, instead? kurt cobain really liked YMG. isn't that weird? maybe not.
Posted 11/09/2006 - 12:58:51 PM by Zarklephaser:
 meatbreak - I wasn't passing judgment on anyone else. Fuck off.
Posted 11/09/2006 - 07:11:38 PM by Hone_Heke:
 a lapdog and a performing monkey! multitalented and yet still out of work! suppose you`ve been off `interviewing` califone eh? yep, heh, I just finished a lost weekend with Scott Walker. we`re calling our album "self-deluded"
Posted 11/11/2006 - 01:25:54 AM by prohibitedart:
 I'm not even going to attempt to follow most of these comments, but I'd like to say that I think Powell's review is definitely well-written. While I don't necessarily agree that this album is a masterpiece, it's certainly an interesting exercise and development for Newsom whether you despise or love The Milk-Eyed Mender. It's a slow grower. "Cosmia" is probably the most initially catchy song here and my favorite after listening four or five times through.
Posted 11/14/2006 - 05:30:16 PM by npopp5:
 I wish more stylus reviews were this thoughful, clever and well-researched. Great album; even better review.
Posted 11/17/2006 - 08:08:53 AM by florenz6:
 ... and, well, after all these hallelujahs nearly everywhere about this record, after people declaring why they love and why they (some) hate this record, it is, in my ears, still a grower. What has convinced me about YS in the end and from the very start, was that I would never call her voice "my cup of Darjeeling´s First Flush" - the music is so great that it transcends such limitations of taste. ...