Review Summary: Joanna's first pack of stark and intelligent handiwork wiggles its way splendidly into 'The Milk-Eyed Mender'.
I am led to believe Joanna Newsom’s childhood was something of a magical nature, nursed by the company of everything she wanted, but also deluged by love and compassion even when she herself wanted to distance herself from it. For anyone else, it was more than you could ask for. However, most of such mysticisms came from Joanna’s bedroom herself; a large bed ornamented with satin, mascots that filled up half the room in the sheer amount, and daintily-carved closets which would make room for all her princess-like dresses. But, on her nightstand, she kept something she treasured the most. Poised between a hairbrush and hand glass, is a music box. The box is beautifully adorned. Each evening she flips it open, perhaps observing the mechanism, or just listening to the soft sounds that it made. It reminds her of her grandmother, who had bequeathed her the box shortly before she passed away. Perhaps it reminds her that the most fluid path through life is the simplest, or perhaps that there have always been answers which shielded her from underlying truths. Even with everything she has, that box is the only thing that means anything to her. Without it her life is empty.
Joanna Newsom is actually a rather spiritual person, and that said, a heck of a minimalist. Even though she herself denies the fact that her music may seem ‘childlike’, you could say it brings about the impression that her sensitivity as a person is much heightened, lying very much in the balance of other people’s experiences. As a solo artist whose family background is majorly taken up by musicians, you would dismiss the fact that she’s actually a unique musician in terms of her family. After all, Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender
, her first official record, could’ve easily led her to aspire from the more obsolete aspects of life and intensified influences around her. There is a drenching in sorrow which seems to plague the vulnerable qualities of the album, where Joanna’s singing could be considered laughable by our conscious mind. But it is they, in effect, that make up the fecund womb of such a sorrowful glimmer.
The vocals are teasing in the way that they reminisce with you, taking your own perceptions and breaking them. In the end, our own ideas and notions about what is important in life are contradicted. Although at times somewhat jaunty, the sooth ballads that this album is composed of are resurgent of creativity and imagination, even of values that we can only dig deeply for in our minds. Whereas lyrically, not everything always makes sense, and some of it is even out of this world; in a good way. But it only tells us that there is no limit to the artistic, aesthetic side of humans. In ‘This Side of the Blue’ Joanna sings “Svetlana sucks lemons across from me/And I am progressing abominably/And I do not know my own way to the sea/But the saltiest sea knows its own way to me” is almost a potluck dinner of bitterness and anger, perhaps garnished from the point in her life where she was a drunken, tattered mess. Her aquatic views are maybe even picked up from all the summers she would bathe in the river with her friends. On occasions, she would just sit in a circle of rocks and listen to it, giving up all her other daily duties, just to be able to listen to the life-giving force of the river.
Joanna primarily uses the harp. She was first taught to play the Celtic harp, and later the pedal harp by a teacher in her hometown of Nevada City. Along with the piano, and expertise in singing as well as song writing, Joanna creates the pillars of The Milk-Eyed Mender
. She is influenced by polyrhythmic song writing, which is the interlocution of two individual rhythms at the same time, derived from the African tradition of music. Joanna in turn uses 4 beats over 3 which predominantly take over the tempo, which are topped off with other irrational rhythms and some hints of dissonance. ‘Inflammatory Writ’ is the first piano-based song on the album which also features a harsher twist to Joanna’s vocals, as the vocal lines often drops down in a bitter diminuendo. The whole burlesque is brought to the spotlight with the entertaining lyrics, and a catchy Southern accent to make the whole track an overly loud and crowded day at a western bar, to be found in the middle of a random-ball of hay-rolling-through background desert landscape. The whole album, save for ‘Three Little Babies’ is written by Newsom herself. The superimposition of the harpsichord itself is featured on the 9th track ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ which also introduces prominently layered vocals, which again point to a much rejuvenated form of music.
The Milk Eyed Mender
has got the charisma of a Commedia dell’arte, except this is neither funny nor improvised. The whole album showcases the very eloquence of Newsoms harp skills, not to mention her integration of a Wurlitzer electric piano, a harpsichord, and the most polar of all, her voice. The craftwork that Joanna Newsom so finely ornates in her debut only is almost perfect, although sometimes the intensity isn’t retained, as it is more often than not. This isn’t either a diary of her sobfests, or a cheesy proclamation of love, but rather a mishmash of quotidian inspiration. A crumbling wall that follows a stream and it can no longer upkeep itself, because nothing is predictable, especially in a life full of curves, swerves, wiggle worms and zip zorps.