Joanna Newsom - Ys
- Artist: Joanna Newsom
- Album: Ys
- Label: Drag City
- Year of Release: 2006
- ME Rating:
- Reviewed by: charlesmartel on 2011-11-23
The mainstream is often held in contempt, by myself as much as anyone else, for taking something banal and turgid, and turning it into something popular and profitable. Well, I have to say that the mainstream is not the only guilty party at manufacturing something out of nothing. There have been occasions on this site when I have written about the ability of a few, who for whatever reason have garnered to themselves a reputation for musical credibility, and then influenced others, convincing them that they like a particular artist or album. The trend then snowballs and soon everyone is talking about this fantastic new album by whoever. But when you step back from the hype, and the need for the insecure to feel part of something bigger, yet something exclusive to them, you begin to see that the object of the adulation is nothing more than brain-addled, awful noise.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Joanna Newsom.
When I first heard this I thought it was a joke. For a start Ms. Newsom cannot sing. No, being able to wail in a high pitched voice some incoherent babble does not equate to singing. And I should know because, if it did, then I'd be a f*****g marvellous singer. After the initial shock of hearing it, Ms Newsom's wailing becomes funny. Then it becomes, and stays, annoying. And so much does it dominate the sound of this album that it is a real distraction. In simple terms, if you can't take her voice, you are not going to enjoy this album.
For seconds, this is not a return to some idealised concept of the purity of folk. It simply does not make any sense. Just because Ms Newsom dresses up on the cover like Isabeau of Bavaria (any French readers will recognise the reference) and plays a bloody harp does not make her a modern interpreter of medieval secular music. The attempt to come across as quaint is mawkish; the belief that this melds the modern with the ancient is a fallacy. The obvious point to make is that medieval music and modern folk music which derives from it has something which is startlingly lacking in Ms Newsom's work - a melody!
So there you have it. A voice which irritates set against music devoid of melody. How on earth do you expect anyone to like this. But wait, the hipsters have got hold of it. That's OK then isn't it? What this is, ultimately, is a small but influential bunch of out-on-a-limb folk freaks climbing on the back of a post "Lord of the Rings" fascination with the medieval and the pseudo-medieval, and managing to convince a sufficient number of people that Joanna Newsom is the finest representative of a new trend in music. It is no such thing. Original it may be, in the broadest terms, but originality without content is as bad, if not worse, as content without originality which is what bedevils the mainstream.
User Reviews and CommentsLog In or Register to Rate Albums
Tell us why this album is great or sucks ass, or correct the reviewer. If you write enough quality reviews you may find yourself on the editorial staff.
Reviews have to be over 100 words, shorter ones are classed as comments.
on 2007-07-09 dscanland Said:
Wonderful Review! I like this: "Melodies spun from the finest silk of a child's dream". I'm sure Joanna Newsom would be proud of such a statement. Are you a CocoRosie fan too? I find the two not too far removed from one another.
on 2007-07-09 lmartini Said:
Melodies spun from the finest silk of a child’s dream; this is Ys, a beautiful piece of work given to us by the young Joanna Newsom. If you have yet to acquaint yourself with her unique singing then do so with this album. Unconventional, creative with a slight folk twist, her voice dances upon the very notes she plucks upon her harp. If the dreamlike rapture of the harp isn’t enough for you however, Ys features a full orchestra; mandolin and banjo, accordion, woodwind, strings and a large percussive section, skilfully and subtly mixed together to drift you into a whole new listening experience. Perhaps this is just the biased view of a recent yet loving fan, but Ys is an incredible creation that displays Joanna’s ability to evolve as a musician and composer.