17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
An extraordinary work of art,
This review is from: Ys (Audio CD)
The Milk-Eyed Mender - Joanna Newsom's outstanding debut album - suggested a gulf between her and almost any other artist working today. The follow-up, Ys, widens that gulf to an ocean.
Spectacular on its own merits, little in The Milk-Eyed Mender suggested what would follow. The cover - a Holbein-esque depiction of Joanna Newsom as a Druid priestess - is backed by a distinctly medieval flavour to the lyrics. Newsom's voice, the major stumbling block for many listeners on her debut album, has traded in its somewhat child-like leanings for an entirely ageless tone.
While her voice and harp remain in the foreground, Ys frames them with a thirty-strong orchestra featuring strings, French horns, trumpets and oboe, courtesy of famed Brian Wilson collaborator, Van Dyke Parks. The way Newsom takes command of such grandiose arrangements, embossing her unusual African-influenced, staccato harp-playing with her distinctive and exceptional voice, is perhaps her most spectacular achievement.
Also highlighted are Newsom's peerless abilities as a story-teller. The pacing, mystery, drama and wonder of opener Emily (a dedication to her sister, who provides vocal harmonies) are only matched by the ingenuous breathlessness of Monkey & Bear. While the tales are undoubtedly peculiar - they are, at first, seemingly impenetrable - Newsom's cadence ensures repeated listens afford fresh discoveries.
Only for one solitary passage of the extraordinary, 17-minute long, Only Skin does Newsom take to the shadows and allow the misty murmur of boyfriend Bill Callahan to take centre stage. Newsom's voice soon returns, lifted upon theatrical trumpets and dramatic oboes.
Callahan and Van Dyke Parks aren't the only two famous names that helped Newsom piece this vast musical tapestry together; the album was mixed by Jim O'Rourke and recorded by Steve Albini.
Unpredictable, magical, challenging and beautiful, Ys is a startlingly original and utterly magnificent achievement. With unparalleled vision and courage, Newsom has produced an extraordinary work of art.