December 15, 2009

albums of the decade (VI)

Joanna Newsom
- The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City, 2004)
- Ys. (Drag City, 2006)

In the interest of time, I've decided to treat two albums at once (I'll also be doing this with a few other lucky artists). Joanna Newsom almost got lost in the great freak-folk trend of 2004/05, but unlike Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family, she's got real staying power; not only is she a witty lyricist and a creative-genius, she's demonstrated serious constraint and hasn't produced a single dud. Every song on the Milk-Eyed Mender is quirky, but you can tell pretty quickly that it's not a put-on. Newsom is genuinely weird and genuinely talented. A harpist with the voice of an infant who writes hyper-literate folk-pop sounds like a potential disaster in theory, but Newsom's attention to craft is nearly unmatched in the indie-world (obviously this massive generalization is fundamentally flawed, but let's try not worry about it).

I'll be honest. I slightly prefer Newsom's first, more conventional album to the sprawling complexity of Ys. In my mind, you can't get much better than a song like "Sadie," which might be (suprise!) her most melancholy composition. Her lyrics are worth quoting at length:
And all day long we talk about mercy:
lead me to water lord, I sure am thirsty.
Down in the ditch where I nearly served you,
up in the clouds where he almost heard you. . . .

This is an old song, these are old blues.
This is not my tune, but it's mine to use. . . .

Down where I darn with the milk-eyed mender
you and I, and a love so tender,
is stretched - on the hoop where I stitch this adage:
"Bless our house and its heart so savage."
I first heard Joanna Newsom in my first year painting class. Someone put on "The Book of Right-On" and I was instantly transfixed. Ys. came a couple of years later and seemed to fit perfectly into the more charming aspects of the Winnipeg winter. Of course, it helped to be so close to Assinaboine Park. A good forest to wander through while listening to the tale of "Monkey & Bear." The whole album feels like it belongs to a distant past that's slightly medieval. I'm obviously just skimming the surface.

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