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Ys


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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding......
This is a fantastic album, a song-cycle comprimised of only 5 songs, but running in at about an hour.

I'm reluctant to even try to describe this album. I think the best example to use is what generally happens after you've listened to it - little melodies, a line perhaps, tend to stick in the mind and won't be uprooted until you've found a quiet place to stick...
Published on 9 April 2007 by Mr. A. J. Whiteway

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
i'm sorry this is rubbish tried listening a few times couldn't get away with it
Published 2 months ago by joyce pattinson


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5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all time favourites!, 25 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
First off, this is my first online review of an album. I just love this album so much that if this can in any way encourage someone to listen to and hopefully enjoy it - that'd be really great!

'Ys' is certainly in my top five albums of all time. I first gave it a listen around the time of its release and wasn't particularly keen on it. Without giving it enough attention, its dense instrumentation and complex song structures didn't work in its favour.. It left me intrigued but not exactly convinced. At the time I preferred 'The Milk Eyed Mender', a more accessible album to dig your teeth into, due partly to its shorter songs (if you haven't listened to Joanna Newsom before I'd recommend starting there).

Something about the album, in particular its opener 'Emily' drew me to it on occasion, however. Still, I didn't fully appreciate it until around the release of 'Have One On Me' in 2010. Its certainly a rewarding experience and upon multiple listens it reveals itself as actually pretty catchy - there are many great hooks! Once I got over being, I guess, overwhelmed by it, 'Ys' became an album I couldn't live without. Very, very replayable, its denseness no longer a deterrent, rather giving it immense longevity.

I think what attracts many to this album is Newsom's lyrics. As a whole I don't really listen to music for the lyrics and this is no exception, so my high regard for it is based for the most part on its musicianship. Van Dyke Parks' arrangements are absolutely superb, the main reason I prefer this album to her other efforts. Newsom's harp playing is of course stunning. Her voice is on great form, in between the more brash (for lack of a better word) nature of her singing on 'The Milk Eyed Mender' and more refined vocal technique on 'Have One On Me'.

Okay, so Newsom is an acquired taste. My Dad really hates her, ha. Give this album a chance to sink in though and it may well win you over. Hopefully it'll have as much of an impact on you as it has on me.

If I had to pick a favourite track it'd probably be Emily. Least favourite - Monkey & Bear.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sunken cities, 10 Feb. 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ys [VINYL] (Vinyl)
Joanna Newsom hasn't lost her freakfolk sound. She's just expanded it.

And she strays from conventional freakfolk in her second album, "Ys," by sticking to sprawling, intricate songs that clock in at about ten minutes average, and enhancing her folky sound with... an orchestra. It's a bit like listening to an acid-tripping fairy tell you her life story.

It opens with "Emily," a gentle little ballad that works itself up in a flow of violins. "The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow/Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh," Newsom warbles. There's a bittersweet note to the hints of loss, but Newsom also fills it with childish wonderment at the world.

Then it's time for interspecies romance in the rippling, meandering story-song "Monkey and Bear," before trickling into "Sawdust and Diamonds." Unlike the shining density of the other songs, this one is stripped down -- it's just a shimmering harp melody, and Newsom crooning softly over it.

Newsom wraps things up nicely in the final two songs. "Only Skin" is a gently expanding ballad that sounds like a medieval song, with an experimental twist. And finally there is "Cosmia," a colourful mishmash of harp, squealing violins, and Bjorkian vocals. "Dry rose petals, red round circles/Frame your eyes, and stain your knuckles..."

Supposedly "Ys" is a loose concept album, about the legendary sunken island -- a bit difference from her Narnian references in her first album. But taken only for itself, "Ys" is a magical experience, as Newsom spins song-stories about pastoral grandeur and magical nature.

Newsom also expands her music in this. Instead of mostly harp, she relies on harp AND strings this time around, and the strings seem to grow as unpredictable and quirky as her harp playing. Her music is completely impossible to predict -- it will trip merrily along, stop, and explode in a swirl of strings, before slipping into a staccato melody. It's enchanting.

It matches her song lyrics, which sound like a hippie Wallace Stevens. Even the most mundane thing can become magical and mysterious here ("Water wet her limbs, fire warms her hair"), and her songs are full of farms, meteroids, rose petals, doves and "milkymoons."

The thing that is hardest to get used to is her voice -- Newsom doesn't have a typical pop voice. She doesn't have a typical folk voice either. Instead, she sounds a bit like a folky Bjork, when she doesn't sound like a stoned pixie at the Renaissance Faire -- she warbles, trills, and occasionally crackles.

"Ys" is as magical as the legends and images that inspire it, and Joanna Newsom has successfully taken her music to the next level. Exquisite.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whimsy of the Finest Order, 8 Feb. 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
When I listened to The Milk-Eyed Mender, I thought it was an interesting exercise in literary and musical patiche, but found it a difficult listen not least because of what I perceived as Newsom's screeching vocals. And for a long time it sat, sadly gathering dust at the bottom of my CD rack. How wrong I was to be so dismissive. Put simply, the power of Ys as an album has, has forced me to reconsider my view and acknowledge her talents of one the finest songwriters of recent years.

Her scrappy command of sublime and whimiscal imagery is similar to Tom Wait's own obsession with down-and-outs, drunks and murderers; and whereas Waits can sometimes seem false in it's construction of existentialist tales, Newsom manages the near-impossible role of making her epic stories seem to flow from her naturally and full of truth.

Steve Albini's production is superb and has managed to fill the perhaps intentional, but nevertheless distracting emptiness that Newsom's previous effort was plagued with. The sweeping violins connect neatly with Newsom's harp plucking and appalacian folk style vocals, which spit gravel and soar across mountain tops from one moment to the next. Newsom's voice definitely comes into its own on this album in a way that it didn't on Milk-Eyed Mender.

However, Ys is not an easy listen. The first time I listened to it, I found it lengthy and tedious - but all I can recommend is to stick with it. Its a sublime piece of music from a artist who is still only just finding her voice.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely amazing, 28 Dec. 2006
By 
Matthew (Atlanta, Georgia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
The first obstacle you have to get over is the fact that this girl's voice is CRAZY. For a girl from California, she is seriously channeling antique Appalachian-Celtic-Scots-Irish elements (c'mon, she's playing a HARP besides). Without sounding new-agey, the Celts revered bard-poets for being able to create spells through their words. The lyrics, which at first seem self-indulgent, fakely antiquated and arty, give more and more after each listening, and could stand alone. Set to this girl's music, they are total witchcraft. I dare anyone with half a brain and half an ear for music and the English language to listen to this album and not be completely charmed. Once you get into the groove of this album it will corrode your brain for weeks.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some will hate this album with a passion, 22 Nov. 2006
By 
David Watson (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
Some people will hate this album with as much passion as I love it. Newsom's voice is unlikely to elicit a "maybe" from any listener but in the context of the music and lyrics, it is a comfortable fit. The combination is intoxicating; at one moment the voice and lyrics forming a loose but perfect symetry with the music and at others, holding it tight and pulling it out of shape.

It's difficult to say whether these pieces are "songs". They are more like narrative poetry set to music, and yet there is so much interplay between the music and poetry that they form an integral and very satisfying whole.

The fact is, this record has captured my imagination and it is certainly the most intriguing thing I have hear for a long time and is quite possibly the album of the year.

For those reading this and wondering what this recording sounds like, the best I can do is this: imagine Kate Bush, Bjork and Mary Margaret O'Hara locked in a room with a recording of Peter and the Wolf, a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales, a harp and a chemistry set. After months of careful experimentation, the result might be Joanna Newsom.

Buy this album if you dare. You may love it or you may hate it. Either way, passion is good.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Brilliant, 28 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
I bought the album after one listen of Monkey & Bear one evening on Radio 6. My success rate at buying music 'on spec' like this is somewhere around the 30% mark. I can only say that this album comfortably sits in this minority.

The voice is haunting, slightly reminiscent of Bjork, but it works its charm as the album unfolds over five songs; each one building on the previous to define a whole.

I have yet to decide on the lyrics, but I am sure that their poetry will win me over. All in all, I can't wait to put the album on again - it's like that - it will mesmerise you.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 19 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
This album is not at all inaccessible, unlovable or "smug". You couldn't possibly accuse it of placing "style over substance" - there's an abundance of substance here, as you can tell from the novel-length lyric sheet and the massively complex and varied harp playing. Nor is it some technical achievement to admire, then put on a shelf - I can't stop listening to it, and I will probably be giving it the occasional spin years from now.

Her lyrics are in a league of their own, the harp and orchestra are perfectly balanced, and her bizzaro voice is very powerful, even if it won't be to everyone's taste. You should definitely test the waters before you buy - I'd recommend 'Cosmia' as a litmus test. If you think it's unlistenable, great, but you can't deny its quality. If you love it, then you can look forward to four other songs, all with far stronger lyrics and equally brilliant melody (I recommended Cosmia mostly because it clocks in at a radio-friendly 7:17).
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy listen, 22 Feb. 2007
By 
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
Delightful intracacies and subtle hooks are the nucleus of this spacious and lyric heavy record. You have to admire the effort that has gone into such an unusual project even if the thought of an 18 minute track leaves you cold.

In fact, there are no easily accessable snippits on Y's with the shortest offering being over 7 minutes, but for those who are undaunted by this it is as rewarding an experience as you will have for some time.

Blissful music.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrown a musical blinder, 12 Nov. 2007
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This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
This album knocked me off my feet right from the first listening. I do like to think I'm fairly open to music in as many forms and genres as possible, to such an extent it takes a lot to impress me. I had read a few reviews of 'Ys', and as I'm always on the lookout for something to revitalise my rather jaded outlook towards music I gave it a try.

Oh my goodness, what an eye-opener! It is hard to know where to start. The album is basically Joanna Newsom on vocals and harp with (for the most part) a backing orchestra. It comprises of 5 tracks, yet runs for about an hour. However, knowing that gives you no indication of what is to come.

I think the word 'epic' should be written into the review somewhere, but at what point I don't know. Her voice is a bizarre fusion of soulful caterwauling and pretty tinkle, harsh at times, but so sweet at others. Her skill on the harp provides both an incredible accompaniement and also counterpoint, in such a manner they fuse together in an intrinsic fashion, making the result so much greater than the two parts. It is fair to say without the one or the other, the cohesiveness of the music would falter or even fail. As it is, it is perfect, despite the backing orchestra occasionally getting in the way.

While I was amazed by it on first listen, I appreciate for many it may be a bit of a grower. Despite getting used to the wild and varied musical patterns within each track, you also have to mull over her lyrics for a long time. Anyone that can throw in lines about bears burying their teeth, spelunking, doves stuffed full of sawdust and diamonds, and soapy spiders corpses hanging from blossoming cherry trees deserves a prize for poetry, let along songwriting!

I bought this album many moons ago, and I still listen to it at least once a week. I also saw her perform in the Royal Albert Hall recently, which gave the music a complete new dimension.

If all of the above isn't recommendation enough, I will finally add this album prompted me to go out and buy my own Venus Penti 47 string Grand Concert harp, and have been taking lessons for the last six months. Never has an album so inspired me.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Unique and All the More Precious For It., 23 April 2007
By 
William J. Walker "Billyjay" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ys [VINYL] (Vinyl)
I bought this vinyl edition from the venue having just seen her live, in part, as a memento from the event. It really is a sumptuous artifact which really does make you pine for the days when the LP was the norm. Anyone who owns the CD will be able to testify to the 'no expense spared' approach that the record co. have taken (the gold trim on the lyric booklet)but there is only so far you can go with the smaller format.

Here the lyrics are layed out in 'journal like' book form using the full size of the gate-fold sleeve to fabulous effect.Of course this would count for little if the music was not a bit special...

It's not very often that an album comes along that defies categorisation and more rarely that it seems impossible even to trace its influences and origins.This is such an album.

I can't remember the last time I heard an album that seemed to reinvent the possibilities in music itself. I'd like to say it's a ground-breaking album but the style is too 'of itself', creating its own hermetically sealed universe into which it allows us to teleport;so it's hard to see it having much influence on the wider musical world.

I recommend if at all possible that you try and listen to the album in a distraction free environment (yes I'm talking darkened room, phone off-the-hook) it's worth the effort.

Some reviewers refer to the several listens it takes to get in to the album, I found it took about a minute and a half.

Is it folk, prose-poetry,classical or just great pop music? There are perhaps elements of all.

A lot is sometimes made of how unusual her voice is, but to to be honest it is more distinctive than strange and it would be fair to say that her singing has become richer and more resonant than on her earlier works.

The album opens with "Emily" a song so rich in imagery and strong in melody it would justify the purchase of the album on its own, conjuring visions of meteorites, skimming stones and raging seas.The stories continue through out the five extended pieces, the orchestral arrangements by Van Dyke Parks contribute greatly to the feel of the work, at times darting in and out like fish, at others swooping and soaring like birds around the central core of harp and voice.

So rich is the sound created by that combination of harp and voice that it was only on seeing her live that I realised that "Sawdust and Diamonds" (track 3) features no orchestration.

The thing that strikes me most about this music is richness of its melodic content, this makes it far more accessible than you might expect.

Allow this music into your heart and it can transport you into other times and places and leave you with an aching sense of loss when you have to leave.

If there is a possible downside to the vinyl version, it is that, due to the lengh of the songs and the need therefore, to spread the album over two discs, it may lead to a interruption of the immersive process. However I'm sure this shouldn't worry vinyl fans too much as I find that such pauses just allow more time to contemplate the magnificence of what has been played.

Buy this album if you love music but aren't afraid to embrace something truly different.
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Ys
Ys by Joanna Newsom (Audio CD - 2006)
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