by carl wilson

Ys oh Why? (Newsom Pre-Preview)

Guess what the mailman brought today? Y(e)s, what you see above is the cover art for the new Joanna Newsom album, Ys. It's pronounced "ees," they say - ruining my headline pun - and it has a pretty fascinating derivation, and is also the name of a board and video game, for those of you keeping stats on game-cultcha's influence on pop. So do we think this painting, perhaps of Joanna as Dahut the druidic princess, by Benjamin Vierling is good, or so bad it's good, or just plain bad? I think it's hideous, frankly. But there's something charming about the acrobatic lapse of taste involved, quite a contrast to the perfect discretion she exercises in her choice of collaborators. Get this - the harp and vocals were recorded by Steve Albini; the orchestra was arranged and conducted by Van Dyke Parks, who co-produced the album (as I've mentioned in the past); and what came out was mixed by Jim O'Rourke. In any sort of musical version of the Kevin Bacon game, Ys may turn out to be the trump card that connects everything to everything.

(Newsom is quoted in the press release: "Albini mic'd the harp in an insane and never-before-done manner! I'd love to describe it further but I don't want to give away his ideas, in case he wants to do it again sometime." Parks worked from those recordings, feeling that "every nuance of the performance would inform his arrangments," which developed in a series of drafts traded back and forth between the old Yankee Reaper and the young harpist, with the goal of creating the sense that "the orchestra is hanging in a hallucinatory shimmer around the more substantial harp and voice." O'Rourke, in turn, "ediited quite a bit, and tweaked and carved it... with parts rising up and dropping in and out almost weightlessly, disappearing without much notice and reappearing as if they'd been there the whole time.")

As for the results? Well, that'd be telling. It's not out till November, and considering that it consists of five songs that average 11 minutes each, I'm not about to attempt to process them in an afternoon. But I will say, there are days when my ears - so often physically abused in the course of duty - are well pleased with the path we've taken.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 30 at 5:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (17)

 

COMMENTS

...whoa...do i want to hear this album?...orchestras?..procol harum with the edmonton symphony and the litanies of that ilk?...she's a pretty damn good musician (note some badass polyrhythms on her last one) but the thing that sold me was her sonic and spiritual resemblance to my two step-grandaughters when they were at their skronkiest,most insistent and lovable best...this is a very hard thing to do well and i have endless love and respect for this woman to have pulled it off!...joanna newsome and her harp alone does it for me..

Posted by nilan on September 9, 2006 7:24 PM

 

 

...whoa...do i want to hear this album?...orchestras?..procol harum with the edmonton symphony and the litanies of that ilk?...she's a pretty damn good musician (note some badass polyrhythms on her last one) but the thing that sold me was her sonic and spiritual resemblance to my two step-grandaughters when they were at their skronkiest,most insistent and lovable best...this is a very hard thing to do well and i have endless love and respect for this woman to have pulled it off!...joanna newsome and her harp alone does it for me..

Posted by nilan on September 9, 2006 7:24 PM

 

 

...whoa...do i want to hear this album?...orchestras?..procol harum with the edmonton symphony and the litanies of that ilk?...she's a pretty damn good musician (note some badass polyrhythms on her last one) but the thing that sold me was her sonic and spiritual resemblance to my two step-grandaughters when they were at their skronkiest,most insistent and lovable best...this is a very hard thing to do well and i have endless love and respect for this woman to have pulled it off!...joanna newsome and her harp alone does it for me..

Posted by nilan on September 9, 2006 7:24 PM

 

 

yeah carl, i agree. the whole idea that people like joanna newsom are continuing that tradition is just absurd. obviously, we can trace a line back to folk-rock but i see the influence of indie rock and the lo-fi movement as a much stronger element. and yes, many of those covers were "ugly" but they occupy a space in my mind that is reserved for projecting fantasies of a time of skewed and misguided innocence.
ahhh sandy denny, where are you now?
haha.

Posted by fig on September 8, 2006 2:20 PM

 

 

I can't remember the last time I felt this much ambivalence about an album. There are times when I'm convinced it's the best thing I've heard all year, and there are other times when I feel like throwing the thing against the nearest wall. Which, of course, makes the thing wholly remarkable, regardless of which reaction ultimately prevails.

Posted by fourfour on September 7, 2006 9:49 PM

 

 

Although the resume makes this album seem like it's going to be "life-altering"--it was also mastered at Abbey Road, so all the bases were covered--it's a humble effort.

Van Dyke Parks is an arranger who's work often goes unquestioned. I have always thought that most people are blinded by his virtuosity, without an ear for the actual sonic textures he creates. Although Ys has some lovely moments with the orchestra, my favourite moments are the parts where it disappears.

(Parks' solo albums are so wonderful, however, I will never grow to hate him.)

Posted by Owen on September 2, 2006 12:52 AM

 

 

Exactly. And I've got nothing against those British folk-rock bands either (well, not nothing, but nothing in particular) but I'm not sure it serves Newsom so well to set herself up for that comparison - it's misleading about the most compelling things about her and emphasizes the more cliched side, I think (maybe she disagrees). And despite the virtues those bands had, I think most of their album covers were butt ugly.

Posted by zoilus on September 1, 2006 5:59 PM

 

 

the cover reminds me of steeleye span records and even more so of the one and only (and wonderful) Fotheringay record.

Posted by Fig on September 1, 2006 4:17 PM

 

 

the cover reminds me of steeleye span records and even more so of the one and only (and wonderful) Fotheringay record.

Posted by Fig on September 1, 2006 4:17 PM

 

 

The combination of Steve Albini, Van Dyke Parks, and JIm O'Rourke is not one I thought I would ever see in my lifetime.

They could have done the new Phil Collins record and I still would have been excited to hear it.

Posted by Nathan on August 31, 2006 5:45 PM

 

 

... and like any good renaissance portrait, (with the notable excpetion of Quentin Metsys' "Ugly Duchess") the painting portrays its subject in a flattering light (In particular, Ms. Newsom's nose has been edited for space).

BTW anyone know if her Toronto show is sold out?

Posted by marco on August 31, 2006 12:02 PM

 

 

Nabokov and me, we like the cover too
(sans landscape out the window.)

Posted by dixon on August 31, 2006 9:35 AM

 

 

I like the cover, actually. To my mind, it must be based on Dürer's 1498 self-portrait with a bit of Harlequin romance thrown in for good measure.

Posted by marco on August 31, 2006 8:14 AM

 

 

That's a good question, Sasha, and for now I can only say, there's a real difference between poetry and prose (prosleytizing prose at that). But when I say I need to process this album it is very much because there are aspects that give me pause, that I need to make up my mind about, while my ears are like, "What? Are you nuts? The tremor of beauty is inarguable!" While I am saying, "Am I really down with this level of epic-poetry? Is this nostalgic? Is this fantasy? Or does it work?"

Posted by zoilus on August 31, 2006 2:35 AM

 

 

Just wondering, Carl, how is it that you see creepy mysticism in Phil Elvrum and not as much in Joanna Newsom?

Posted by Sasha on August 30, 2006 10:47 PM

 

 

The art is an interesting confluence of good and bad. On one hand, I think I see what Newsom and Vierling were shooting for; it reminds me very much of some plates in a medieval book that my stepfather wrote a paper on a while ago (I, my mother, and my stepfather are currently all torturing ourselves to try to figure out which book--it was a little like a Book of Hours and a little like a proto-Tarot deck).

On the other hand, he painted her with her eyes crossed.

Posted by Jamie on August 30, 2006 9:05 PM

 

 

I am very much looking forward to this (though I agree, the cover is pretty naff). It's great to hear that you're pleased with how it turned out, it seems like she took some fairly big risks on this one.

Posted by Richie on August 30, 2006 6:40 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson