If the debut album from Joanna Newsom, 2004's The Milk-Eyed Mender
, suggested there was no-one in music quite like this elfin San Franciscan harpist, its follow-up Ys
sees that gulf of difference become a universe of possibilities. Recorded by veteran engineer Steve Albini, with strings from Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks and vocal contributions from Newsom's current beau, Bill Callahan of alternative country miserabilists Smog, Ys
is an altogether bigger, broader, more fantastical and more ambitious offering than its predecessor.
Only five tracks long, songs unfurl into grandiose narratives embossed with trumpet, violins, oboe, and French horn. But what's truly impressive is Newsom's extraordinary sense of command. On "Emily", cutesy observations of birds taking flight ("the meadowlark and the chim-cho-ree") blossom out into tales of falling meteorites, muddy-mouthed baboons and nautical adventures. Meanwhile, on the extraordinary "Only Skin" (which approaches 20 minutes in length) Newsom's voice and plucked harp flourish in strange, complimentary patterns, her voice at times born up on dramatic trumpets and cooing oboes, or for one passage, shadowed by Callahan's cobwebbed croak. It is testing in length, difficult to dip into, and not for those allergic to flights of fancy -- but Ys
is a magnificent achievement, one you suspect no one else on this planet could mimic, let alone challenge. -- Louis Pattison
CD Prod.By Albini/O'Rourke & Arrangements By Van Dyke Park