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Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006) November 2, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.

Joanna Newsom: YsI have tried. Really. I didn’t like the first bit of music I heard by Joanna Newsom, whatever it was, but Ys got so much praise from music critics, and it was available on eMusic at the time, so I thought, maybe I’m missing something, maybe this is the one where it clicks and I get it.

After all, she gets compared to Kate Bush and Bjork, two adventurous women musicians with distinctive singing styles, and I like both of them. The news that she added full orchestral arrangements to her usual harp accompaniment also made this sound more interesting, more substantial somehow.

But I listen to this and all I can think of is some precocious five-year-old girl singing to herself, just rambling, sometimes following a hint of melody, sometimes just jumping up and down the scale, sometimes with a hint of rhythm, other times randomly speeding up or slowing down or singing more softly or getting abruptly louder. And sometimes she sings like a senile old lady with a cracked voice. And it’s hard to find any rhyme or reason to any of it.

There are moments when it’s possible to imagine what a less affected Joanna Newsom might sound like, when you can almost imagine her putting aside her bag of tricks and just singing. They don’t tend to last long, but they make me wish they did. Chances are she’d lose her current fans if she did, though; there’s a reason she’s sometimes categorized as freak folk, and the reason is that some people enjoy unnatural and contrived freakishness. (I heard a song by Devendra Banhart once. Life’s too short, but if life meant having to listen to Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom regularly, it’d be worth making it shorter still.)

The arrangements aren’t bad, anyway, in a children’s fairy tale movie soundtrack kind of way.

So, no, I still don’t get it. Every so often I give it another shot, but I don’t think that’s going to change.


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