Two years ago, Joanna Newsom’s debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, a collection of playful and quirky songs, exposed her as an intriguing new talent. Such an entrance, however, is no preparation for this majestic album. Allegorical and exotic, Ys (pronounced ‘ees’) retains the wry twists and rhymes of her debut, but it is a grander, more mature effort. Newsom’s singular voice flutters, rises, warbles and whispers its way through these otherworldly songs with graceful ease. Poetic, passionate, whimsical and experimental, Ys is as spectacular as it is intense.
There are hints of ageless female vocalists such as Vashti Bunyan, the raw power of PJ Harvey, and Kate Bush’s delicate eeriness, yet Ys would suit a tranquil Japanese garden. It evokes a utopian world of beauty and flowers, of snow-covered mountains and songbird-filled meadows. These songs, which eschew traditional verse-chorus structure, are really short stories. Each layer of sound – choirs, organs, violins, harps and strings – builds upon the others, and all are held together by Newsom’s unique voice. Cryptic lyrics interspersed with biblical allusions, and songs stretching to sixteen minutes mean this is not for everyone. But once you get Joanna Newsom, you’ll never let her go
Reviewed by Kathryn Bromwich
Out this week