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January 27, 2010 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Not one to shy away from ambition, Joanna Newsom went from writing sparse harp tunes to releasing a lengthy orchestral album in two years' time. Four years later, her new album's on the way — and it's a triple. Yesterday her label Drag City released its first song, '81.

Other miscellanea: Newsom, whose voice provokes instant love in some and instant revulsion in others, has been dating Andy Samberg (yes, that Andy Samberg) since 2007. Her previous album was notable not just for its concept but its personnel: It was arranged by Van Dyke Parks, recorded by Steve Albini, and mixed by Jim O'Rourke.

Those who think Newsom's voice is unlistenable should listen to this song from her self-released EP Walnut Whales: It's both a fascinating look into her musical origins and impossible to stomach unless you're already a diehard fan.
posted by Rory Marinich (69 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"81" sounds like the really gorgeous sections of Y's minus some of the vocal gymnastics and just-a-hair-over-the-edge twee bits that occasionally made me switch tracks.

Can't wait to buy this album, and listen the hell out of it.
posted by fake at 8:09 AM on January 27, 2010


She's playing live in NYC soon and I keep wondering if I should see her live. I had the requisite crush on her ca. 2004 (after finding out about her via Devendra Banhart's "Golden Apples of the Sun" mix) but didn't really enjoy Ys. Can't wait to hear this new one, though, especially if Albini is involved.
posted by griphus at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2010


...and looking back on the comment I just made I can check "live in New York," "heard about her before she was big," "liked her older stuff better," and "Steve Albini fetish" off my hipster bingo card.
posted by griphus at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


Griphus: I'm seeing her live in Philadelphia this March. She's touring with an eight-piece string section, which is enough in itself to excite me. Several songs of her playing on this tour are orchestral, though not quite the same as Ys's; two had percussion in them, which excites me more than percussion ought to.

I find that for people that don't like Ys it helps if you play it backward. Cosmia, the ending track, is the easiest one to get into: It's shorter, more poppy, and gorgeous. It serves as a sort of primer for the rest of the album, which was my pick for best of the decade. None of the songs are easy, but listen to them enough times to understand the structure and they'll blow your mind.

(Funny that I'm a Newsom addict but have never listened to Devendra Banhart. Perhaps I should get on that.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2010


Seeing Newsom with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform Ys is one of the best concert experiences I've had. The new song sounds very accessible; I hope there's room on her new triple-disc for the more challenging music she's certainly capable of. Newsom without an edge to her voice wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Here's the cartoon mentioned in the third link.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like this cartoon that's linked in one of the posts.
posted by dng at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2010


Hmm, "eight-piece string section" sounds pretty awesome. I think my distaste for Ys stems from the fact that I don't like long tracks. I do, however, really enjoy "Emily" and the last part of "Only Skin" when the male vocals kick in.

Also, Banhart's alright, but if you want to listen to more stuff out of that scene, check out Six Organs of Admittance/Ben Chasny (Dust and Chimes is my favorite album.) SOAA is how I found out about Banhart (he opened) and eventually Newsom.
posted by griphus at 8:21 AM on January 27, 2010


Yes. You should see her live.
posted by JBennett at 8:22 AM on January 27, 2010


Best news I've heard all week!

Gryphus, I'd say yes to the "see her live?" question. Her facial mannerisms alone are worth the ticket price.
posted by otherthings_ at 8:25 AM on January 27, 2010


I just randomly ran into newsom's music one day while driving to work and listening to either community radio or college radio (they switch durring the day and i don't remember the time) and they played peach,plum, pear and i was like "is this a child recorded in the '30s (or earlier) or did someone give Zelda Rubinstein a singing contract? But I was enthralled and then I saw a picture of Newsom and heard her speak and i have to say i was quite smitten.

But i still only listen to the popular songs off of her first record, like peach plum pear, The book of right on and the sprout and the bean.
posted by djduckie at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2010


Is that triple vinyl or triple CD? The NME article doesn't actually say, unless I'm being an idiot. I'm assuming vinyl, but it's weird how that's still used as the unit of album size even now.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 8:34 AM on January 27, 2010


You know, when I first heard her music, I couldn't stand it. I thought her voice sounded like a vacuum cleaner put through a blender. And then one day, I GOT IT. Now I think her music is beautiful and awesome in ways that I don't expect anybody to understand. I love it, even though I understand that it's definitely "headphone music."

I wonder how many other people had sudden revelations like this.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:34 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cool. I like both of those records a lot. Funny: I think Ys is probably the 'better' record, but I never got into it nearly as much as the first one, even still, so what the hell do I mean it's better?

At any rate, looking forward to this.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2010


My introduction to Ys was hearing her play the entire album from beginning to end at a show in New York, around the time when it was released. I'd already been a fan, but that really pushed me over the edge into true devotion. It's one of those albums I wish I could hear for the first time again, because I've played it so many times that I forget to pay attention to its nuances. It has become familiar, and I first loved it because it was strange.

You may or may not like what she's doing, but she is an intense artist with a distinct vision and an incredible amount of ambition, doing exactly what she wants and when she wants to do it. The fact that her music also happens to be magically delicious is just the icing on the cake, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by hermitosis at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


She's good live, real good.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:37 AM on January 27, 2010


Yeah, I was in that "three first songs of M-E M" phase for a while. There's so much going on even in them. Here's a smattering of other songs of hers that I think serve as a nice introduction.

Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie was the ending song of Milk-Eyed Mender; this version, however, is a performance from 2007 with a back-up singer that adds a marvelous harmony. If you want to start with Ys, do so with Cosmia, which is shorter by far than all the other songs. Here's her playing Colleen off her 2007 EP, which has got a much looser, faster feel to it. And here is Esame, the gorgeous song she debuted in 2007 and which people assumed was a teaser for an upcoming album — followed by a ten-year wait with precious little else coming out. I'm excited to hear an album version of this song especially.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:37 AM on January 27, 2010


I sat on the floor in a little church in Amherst and watched her play pre-Ys with Devendra Banhart, great, wonderful show. Wish I could transport myself back to it right now. Her voice filled a room so well, and his crazy preacher rockstar vibe worked perfect in the setting.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:45 AM on January 27, 2010


I too like her too. Someone once said that if you want to introduce someone to Newsom, the best way is to play 'The Sprout and The Bean.' If they can get to the line 'Are y'interested?' without being totally sold then they never will be.
posted by Jofus at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to hear her cover "Babooshka."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:02 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait for this. She's a freaking fucking fracking flipping genius.
posted by ORthey at 9:02 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, it's both. Don't mind me.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:05 AM on January 27, 2010


Pre-ordered! This is my kind of Pepsi Blue.
posted by hermitosis at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2010


Harp is the new ukulele.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:10 AM on January 27, 2010


I had hard times with her voice after it occurred to me that it's remarkably like Lisa Simpson's.

But then someone suggested Billie Holiday, and I have much less of a problem with it. Ys is also a whole lot less cutesy in general. Very excited about a third full length.
posted by georg_cantor at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2010


Ms scruss and our mutual friends refer to JN as 'that shrieky woman'. But that doesn't put me off in the slightest.
posted by scruss at 9:23 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also had the conversion from "give me a break with this affected voice, and a harp, really?" to "oh my god suddenly everything clicked and this is the most complex, strange, gorgeous, heartfelt thing I've ever heard." it's funny how common this apparently is.
posted by naju at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


She is hot! I'm glad they sexed up her image
Become a fan of hers on Facebook!! There you can find all her pics :) They're sweet!
Arrgh! Why did I have to look at the YouTube comments?!
posted by chorltonmeateater at 9:38 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


This could be the best triple album since 69 Love Songs!

Sandinista! is another triple and it is also high up on my list of best albums.

I don't know whether to count All Things Must Pass since the third record is so inessential.
posted by dfan at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2010


Arrgh! Why did I have to look at the YouTube comments?!

Why did you have to replicate them here?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2010


I loved Ys and have been waiting anxiously for this album. Thank you for the heads up!
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2010


When you browse the Youtube comments for too long you start feeling very disturbed about how many people specifically are asking for wedding proposals.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:47 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


She is absolutely mesmerising live. I'm lucky to have two friends who completely worship her who made me watch both her All Tomorrow's Parties sets in 07, and I was completely converted. I also bought Bill Callahan's first solo record after that show (she played either side of his set).
posted by featherboa at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2010


I should mention that my cats hate her, and refer to her as the "squeaky monster."
posted by georg_cantor at 10:02 AM on January 27, 2010


Ys is one of the only albums I ration. I only allow myself to listen to it every 6 months or so, to keep it from feeling ordinary. I get seriously pulled into it emotionally, and really relish that.

I guess I understand the reaction some have to her voice. I put her in the same class as Tom Waits, artists whose voices are amazingly distinct and expresssive. And if you can't get Tom Waits or Joanna Newsom, well, I don't even want to know you.

Very much looking forward to this. Listening to a Joanna Newsom triple album is going to be a project, though.
posted by uberfunk at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2010


What I'd love to hear is a version of ys *without* those abysmal, syrupy Van Dyke Parks strings.
For me they ruin the record - Sawdust & Diamonds, the only track to escape damage, is the only one I seek out to listen to. What the fuck were they thinking?
posted by Flashman at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2010


What I'd love to hear is a version of ys *without* those abysmal, syrupy Van Dyke Parks strings.
For me they ruin the record - Sawdust & Diamonds, the only track to escape damage, is the only one I seek out to listen to. What the fuck were they thinking?


As much as I like Sawdust & Diamonds, I think the strings on Ys are perfect. My favourite moment on the entire album is the climax of Cosmia (around 6:20 to 6:40), and it's not the same without the strings - I like the album version much better than the Ys Street Band EP version.
posted by ripley_ at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2010


I had hard times with her voice after it occurred to me that it's remarkably like Lisa Simpson's.

But then someone suggested Billie Holiday, and I have much less of a problem with it.


I think that her actual departure point is Malvina Reynolds.

I put her in the same class as Tom Waits, artists whose voices are amazingly distinct and expressive.

Waits' departure point is, of course, Howlin' Wolf.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:28 AM on January 27, 2010


Like many Australians, my first exposure to Joanna Newsom was through this Victoria Tourism ad, and since it is not only a charming little ad but features one of my favourite places to visit (Melbourne) I was a bit smitten. I was furthermore delighted to find my given name is featured in one of her songs, which is a rarity. Not to mention how lush her work is.

Also, there's just something about her voice that hides the whine on my cheap speakers just perfectly.
posted by Jilder at 10:35 AM on January 27, 2010


I'm in the "instant revulsion" camp. I tried and tried, but can't get past her voice. Oh, well. Props for pushing the envelope, though. As if she needed them from me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2010


With the new St. Vincent, the Tune-Yards debut, the new Owen Pallett record, Florence and the Machine, and now this upcoming triple-album, I'm a happy listener these days.
posted by jokeefe at 10:42 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dr. Wu-- I was with you for a long time, but no longer. I had a conversion experience with Ys and have never looked back. Keep listening if you're put off at first, and try and hear the melodies and arrangements, for they are genius.

Also, Andy Samberg must have hidden depths, right? Right?
posted by jokeefe at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2010


With the new St. Vincent, the Tune-Yards debut, the new Owen Pallett record, Florence and the Machine, and now this upcoming triple-album, I'm a happy listener these days.

I'd suggest you give the new Magnetic Fields and new Xiu Xiu a shot.
posted by griphus at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The new Magnetic Fields album, from what I've heard of it, sounds pretty repetitive and tedious. I was even a fan of Distortion, but I might have hit my limit. Got any songs you think'll knock off my socks?
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:48 AM on January 27, 2010


...speaking of the Magnetic Fields, has there been a triple album other than 69 Love Songs that hasn't been complete, total, utter overkill?
posted by kittyprecious at 10:48 AM on January 27, 2010


This could be the best triple album since 69 Love Songs!

There are a lot of great songs on that work but i have two complaints 1) not every song is a gem and all though he was "crazy, but not that crazy"(for the uninitiated it's a line from a song in the set, and also an answer to a question of why he picked 69 instead of 100 (outside of the sexual connotation, which yes, was also part of the reason) some have the feel of "oh, what genre haven't we done and what can i throw together to meet the quota i have set for myself".

2) maybe i got on the train late, but i had to buy all three as seperately packaged disc that if i remember correctly the store i purchased them from was charging full album price for each (15-19 bux) and they were the only store i could find in the area (ok, well full disclosure one of my good friends worked there and i waited until the store was liquidating to purchase them and i think i got them for a large chunk off.)

Also sorry for the derail.
posted by djduckie at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2010


I've never gotten her. Based on the few of her songs I've heard (particularly "Cosmia"), she seems like a pale imitation of Bjork -- whose singing is more enjoyable though just as quirky. I'll take St. Vincent, My Brightest Diamond, or Hanne Hukkelberg over Joanna Newsom.

But the new triple album sounds intriguing, so I'll give it a listen. Thanks for the heads-up.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:56 AM on January 27, 2010


The new Magnetic Fields album, from what I've heard of it, sounds pretty repetitive and tedious...

The Magnetic Fields are probably my single favorite band but all the albums are repetitive. Every time a new album drops I have to listen to it enough times to get over that fact and only then really appreciate it for what it is. I really didn't enjoy Distortion until I saw them on tour for it, wherein they played the songs "straight" and then immediately got my head around the album. It's a lot more work than falling head-over-heels in love for 69 Love Songs upon first listen (which I did) but worth it.

As far as individual tracks go, I loved "Walk A Lonely Road" immediately, "Everything Is One Big Christmas" shortly thereafter and I'm now on "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" (which will probably be the single.) I didn't enjoy the album at first - I described it as "mercifully short" to a friend - but I'm not finally getting into it.
posted by griphus at 10:58 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...but I'm not now finally getting into it."
posted by griphus at 10:59 AM on January 27, 2010


I too like her too. Someone once said that if you want to introduce someone to Newsom, the best way is to play 'The Sprout and The Bean.' If they can get to the line 'Are y'interested?' without being totally sold then they never will be.

Well, I guess I'm in the latter camp, cause I just gave that a try, and while I think her harp-work is gorgeous, her voice still sounds like cats having sex, and that was one of the better Newsom songs I've heard in that regard. Every time I've tried to listen to a song from Ys I've had to turn it off in less than a minute. Any other tips? I'd hate to be the only uncool kid on the blue.
posted by Caduceus at 11:09 AM on January 27, 2010


Any other tips? I'd hate to be the only uncool kid on the blue.
posted by Caduceus


Have you tried "Peach, Plum, Pear"? Personally still my favorite is "Sadie" which I heard first, and features the full caterwaul which some people despise, but which sounds just right to me.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:21 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought even 69 Love Songs could've been about 60 minutes shorter. I hope that Newsom legitimately has the songs to pull this off and isn't going to have 40 minutes of good songs spread across 150ish minutes.
posted by LSK at 11:27 AM on January 27, 2010


For those who couldn't get into Ys, if the strings were too much, I recommend checking out this great live recording of her on the Ys tour (with the—lol—Ys Street Band) at the First Unitarian in Philadelphia. It's also available on your favorite torrent site I believe. I've listened to it more than Ys itself I think and it is wonderful.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:39 AM on January 27, 2010


Any other tips? I'd hate to be the only uncool kid on the blue.
posted by Caduceus


"Inflammatory Writ" (caveat: doesn't sound like the rest of her stuff) or "Bridges and Balloons."
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on January 27, 2010


Good godDAMN her music is beautiful.
posted by billysumday at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2010


Most of you probably know this already, but if you don't, Owen Pallett's cover of Peach, Plum, Pear is amazing.
posted by Flashman at 12:26 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any other tips? I'd hate to be the only uncool kid on the blue.

I'd go with "The Book of Right-On" - much more rhythmic, goofier, blunter lyrics ("I killed my dinner/with karate/kick 'em in the face/taste the body").

I played Milk-Eyed Mender for my regular (coed) card game and everyone agreed it was the worst poker music ever. Even fans.
posted by msalt at 12:39 PM on January 27, 2010


Arrgh! Why did I have to look at the YouTube comments?!

YouTube Comment Snob
posted by kersplunk at 12:39 PM on January 27, 2010


Her voice is fine, but when did prog rock become cool again?
posted by invitapriore at 1:05 PM on January 27, 2010


I wonder how many other people had sudden revelations like this.

It hasn't happened to me yet, though I do keep trying. Some day, perhaps.
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2010


Her voice is fine, but when did prog rock become cool again?

Around the time of the Decemberist's second album, if I recall correctly.
posted by jokeefe at 2:40 PM on January 27, 2010


Every kind of 70s suckitude is hip again. I even heard a cover of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey."
posted by msalt at 2:54 PM on January 27, 2010


So, anyone have an idea of what's going on with the lyrics for this song? Are they part of a larger concept album? She's singing about St. George and the dragon, seceding from the union in 1881, and god knows what else. I wonder if we'll need footnotes.
posted by naju at 3:17 PM on January 27, 2010


Around the time of the Decemberist's second album, if I recall correctly.

Fourth fourth fourth fourth fourth.
posted by griphus at 3:26 PM on January 27, 2010


Waitwaitwait.......she's going out with Andy "Jizz in Pants" Samburg?

Thats all kinds of awesome. As well as the news that theres a new triple CD coming from her. Colour me "Cannot Wait" (soon to be a Crayola colour)
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2010


She's absolutely terrible.
posted by bardic at 4:24 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd hate to be the only uncool kid on the blue.

Don't worry. You are not the only uncool kid on the blue. No musician is universally loved, and rest assured you are one of many intelligent humans who does not enjoy listening to Joanna Newsom's singing. I'm another one. Surely others at MetaFilter do not like her either, but they either did not click on this post to read about her or don't feel like getting into it with people who think she's so awesome that you're not worth knowing if you don't enjoy listening to her.

FWIW, I do like her harp playing and she seems to write interesting songs. I just can't get past that voice.
posted by wondermouse at 6:43 PM on January 27, 2010


My first exposure to her music was in the closing credits to this wonderful eclectic half-animated short, City Paradise by Gaelle Denis. Worth your 6 minutes (and the song is the aforementioned Peach, Plum, Pear.)

To whoever compared Newsom to Bjork: I'm guessing Bjork would agree with you. At least, she liked her enough to have her be the opening act on her last US tour!
posted by otherthings_ at 10:21 PM on January 27, 2010


I always found "en gallop" the most hypnotizing of her songs, especially when matched with this video footage. I could do without the strings on Ys.
posted by ctmf at 11:19 PM on January 28, 2010


WTF? this video. Not that one. Although...

I have no idea how that happened, sorry.
posted by ctmf at 11:23 PM on January 28, 2010


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