Joanna Newsom is one of very few artists to have created a genre all her own. "The Milk-Eyed Mender", her first LP, is an adventure in a storybook.
With not much else than a harp in her hand, Joanna Newsom created 12 beautiful tracks on this album. Utilizing her background in classical and folk music, her off-beat wit and intelligence, she fuses so many odd components together, that the result is something truly inspiring.
I'll be the first to admit that upon my intial listening of "Bridges and Balloons", I decided to not even bother giving the rest of the album a listen because I found her voice so unbearable. But then I listened to it again. And again. And the more I listened, the more foolish I felt for shrugging it off so quickly.
It's an aquired taste, to be sure. Untrained and unconventional, Newsom's voice makes it seem as if a shivering 6 year old is telling you a story. But the more you listen to it, the more it feels as if that's how it was meant to seem.
Even if you don't particularly fancy her vocals, her harp playing is undeniable. With nearly every song, she serenades you with non-traditional harp melodies, sending you into a dream-like state which can only be brought about by the serenity of a brilliantly eloquent harpist.
The combination of her quick wit and poetic obscuritys, are what can induce the feeling of peace and nostalgia while still incorporating melancholy, if not cryptic, attitudes.
One such track, "The Book of Right-On", is a simple song and one of the few that contains more than just a harp. It has a mysterious team of guitar and harp riffs which create a feeling of mystery with her usual abstract lyrics:
"I killed my dinner with Karate -
Kick 'em in the head, taste the body;
Shallow work is the work that I do
Do you want to sit at my table"
My fight and fame is fable
and fortune finds me fit and able"
"Inflammatory Writ" is a track which is most different from Newsom's usual style and a contributor to the reason this album is hard to classify. Lead soley by piano, this song is fast, quirky, while still holding many underlying meanings.
"Bridges and Balloons", one of my favorites, is a song that takes you sailing out to sea with the same childish simplicities and beautiful lyrics as the others.
"We sailed away on a winter's day
with fate as malleable as clay;
but ships are fallible, I say,
and the nautical, like all things, fades
And I can recall our caravel:
a little wicker beetle shell
with four fine maste and lateen sails,
its bearings on Cair Paravel "
Alongside "En Gallop", "Three Little Babes", "Cassiopeia", "Sadie" -just to name a few.
What I find most enjoyable about this album is that it is clear that she is educated, intellegent, and talented. Her music is reminiscent of those who make music because it is a passion rather than a profit
So if you've tried to listen to this album before, but we're thrown off by the vocals-as so many before you- then I suggest you give it another go. It is worth it if you can accept this unconventional approach to folk, the harp, and indie in general.