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I’d heard Milk-Eyed Mender a few times, but I only really got into Joanna Newsom’s music with Ys. What a beautiful album.

At first, her voice turned me off. I had a crappy bootleg of Yarn and Glue. Or are all versions like that? Mine was recorded in some sort of drive-me-mad stereo mode. It oscillates from left to right and buzzes like crazy, sounds like it was recorded underwater, on an electrified platform. I gave her another chance with Milk-Eyed Mender, and now her voice is one of the main reasons I listen to her music. Recently, I’ve been more interested in distinctive, raw, low-fi vocals that convey honest emotion rather than a produced, clear sound. I guess it’s not quite fair to say that polished vocals are less genuine. That’s like assuming all decent people are disingenuous because they’re not as bad as me. Even so, I’d rather hear Tom Waits than Frank Sinatra, though that’s due to subject matter as well.

More than anything else, I love Joanna Newsom’s poetry. I’m functionally illiterate when it comes to music, so I try to latch on to the one thing musicians do that I understand even a little: lyrics. A few samples from Ys, which speak very well for themselves:

It was a dark dream, darlin’, it’s over
The fire-breather is beneath the clover
Beneath his breathing there is cold clay, forever
A toothless hound-dog choking on a feather.

— Only Skin


When you ate I saw your eyelashes
Saw them shake like wind on rushes
In the corn field when she called me
Moths surround me – thought they’d drown me

And I miss your precious heart
And I miss your precious heart

Can you hear me, will you listen milkymoon
Don’t go near me, don’t go missing
In the lissome light of evenin’
Help me, Cosmia – I’m grievin’

— Cosmia

and one more:

Let us go! Though we know it’s a hopeless endeavor
The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined and hold us close forever
Though there is nothing would help me come to grips with a sky that is gaping and yawning
There is a song I woke with on my lips as you sailed your great ship towards the morning

— Emily

And it helps that she’s unbearably beautiful. Proof:

[youtube VcsBGR9uHmc nolink]

I love her unassuming, completely comfortable presence. She’s poised, but not cold; self-assured without seeming arrogant. When she talks, it’s like she’s found a treasure she wants to share, and that is so wonderful. There are few objects in the universe more beautiful than an intelligent, passionate woman. Ok, I’ll stop now.

So I suppose I didn’t say much about Ys itself. It’s more orchestral than Milk-Eyed Mender. Conceptually, it deals loosely with an ancient, sea-drowned city, though Newsom doesn’t go down the crass or operatic trails of concept albums; she loosely fits the music around various themes, leaving a lot of room for metaphor (her harp is the sea, etc), and for melodic experimentation. All of these are worth points on my scale.

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