by carl wilson

Joanna Newsom and the Year In Review In Review In Review

I think Matos has made it necessary to discuss the place of Joanna Newsom in my 2004 Ceremonies of Grand Kudos: While I sympathize with a lot of his cynicism about the "New Beard America" - or at least do when I am swinging by one end of my mood rope (it changes colours!) as opposed to the other, I am more and more irked by the lumping of Newsom in with Banhart and other self-styled fairy folk. I realize there are personal interconnections that make that inevitable but I think that can promote critical deafness. (As Newsom told the Wire, "I feel like there's as much of a connection between my music and some of these people I'm being grouped together with as there is between my music and music that has been made for the last 30 years." As much and as little, she means.)

Unlike Banhart's Hippie II act, I don't hear more than a faint sixties-revivalist note in Newsom's music whatsoever, and in fact it strikes me as very much the classicist pop-structured music that it's certainly absurd to claim the Animal Collective is, for instance, simply set in a different sonic register. But also everybody makes far too much of the "naive" and "childlike" in her work, which certainly is in no way Newsom's own claim for it at all. And is really a product of kneejerk reaction to her vocal tone, which is your prerogative but of little more value than that. Newsom's music is to me very sophisticated, and weary, and wise, and its uses of beauty - the harp, the natural imagery, the close rhyming - all suggestive more of beauty's mortality than of a winsome child's adventure in the greenery. This weekend Mrs. Zoilus was listening to The Milk-Eyed Mender for the first time and after a few minutes broke down in tears, in one of the most spontaneous and involuntarily violent reactions to a work of art I've seen anyone have in quite a long time, and it sharpened my sense that Newsom's extraordinary quality is to discover a really harsh hard nut at the centre of a sweet fruit.

Like all great poetry, it is about loss. About sadness and exile, innocence unrecapturable, connections severed and gradually fading to memory, remaining beloved, yet truly being dead and gone and out of reach - all on a microscopically close, ecological level of observation. That's what I hear in her. In short her shit is serious and all this "winsome" talk is careless puddle-wading.

That said, I'm currently reading Matos's Prince book, a fantastic entry in the 33 1/3 series and the rest of his year in review post had me nodding my head like an addlepated bobble doll. Also worth checking are the 2004-remixed pieces he assembled with his team at Seattle Weekly (which just maybe is the central weekly publication of music writing of 2004, comparable to the Voice 15 years ago?): songs, reissues, Seattle locals and writer by writer. (Sadly their "iTunes" direct links won't work for Canadians, so to recreate them you'd have to work from scratch.)

And just in case you felt your year had somehow been insufficiently reviewed: What says the staff of free-form holdout station WFMU? What about the mighty Sasha Frere-Jones? (Who by the way has a new New Yorker piece on mash-ups , which manages to be a NY'er-reader-friendly Beginner's Guide but still present a provocative thesis.) Hey, whassup, Jody Rosen in Slate, Mark K-Punk, Simon Reynolds, Grime-centric Silver Dollar Circle, Philip Sherbourne, Geeta, Comes With a Smile staff and endlessly inquisitive Jess Harvell?

Also check out-music hub Brainwashed's valuable year-end poll, and Metacritic's pseudo-scientific version of same. Scott Seward considers his Pazz & Jop ballot and then he casts it. The NYT's Jon Pareles presents a retrospective on a retrospective year and Coolfer comments. And if that ain't enough for you: Fimoculous throws open the floodgates.

On the meta- tip, Yancey Strickler does precisely the anatomy-of-the-top-10-list that I considered doing but gave up on (for lack of space and a wee dram of laziness) in last week's column. Jace Clayton presents DJ Rupture's Top 5 Problems With Top 10 Albums Lists.

In the local arena Luca plays one of the songs of the year, Torontoist picks singles and albums, Eye picks albums and singles but for some reason separates out the dance albums, John Sakamoto presents the Anti-Hit List best of 2004, Denise Benson looks at the year in da clubs, while Errol Nazareth offers a very very thoughtful year-ender and Zoilus is included among this year's music-scene Winners; meanwhile over at NOW, Zoilus is counted among the Top 10 local blogs, and the staff assembled a really useful Best of Toronto music feature along with best-of lists from Sarah Liss, Michael Hollett and cranky ol' Tim Perlich. Also in the Greater Metropolitan Area, a list from 10:51 a.m. Toronto, many many lists over the course of December at A Shot Online, an extensive list at Basement Galaxy and, at the Toronto Star, Ben Rayner's pleasantly unpredictable 10 and Vit Wagner's rather more predictable, but fine, 10; as well, Geoff Chapman's year-in-jazz and Ashante Infantry's R&B; 2004. I unfortunately can't link to Aaron's article relating to his list, but I can say that I would dispute the robustness of Feist's sense of place and that this is, in fact, one of my misgivings with the album.

And finally, a nonmusical but still pageant-like list, The Better Living Centre's 2004 in Toronto marginalia.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 04 at 8:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



Point taken (and link fixed) on Errol Nazareth, Scott - which is why I said "very very thoughtful" rather than "very very accurate." Nazareth might be too p.c. about it but I still think his discussion of the (anthropo)logics involved resonates with what happens in a lot of music coverage (albeit sometimes due to pragmatics more than warped perspective, the two tend to be mutally reinforcing). If he's repeating the point it may be that he's frustrated with its persistence, and I think in Canadian media especially, that deserves a fair hearing - along with a fair rebuttal.

Posted by Zoilus on January 5, 2005 1:38 AM



"or at least as long as he's been doing this" should be "for at least as long..."

Posted by scott woods on January 5, 2005 12:57 AM



The link to Errol Nazareth's "very, very thoughtful" year-end piece doesn't work, but regardless, it's the exact same "very, very thoughtful" piece Errol Nazareth has written at the end of every year or at least as long as he's been doing this. Once again he condemns any artist or listener who he perceives as carrying "a whiff of someone who's on a cultural safari." The awkwardness of that sentence notwithstanding (can you really "carry" a "whiff"?), it's a repellant idea, which basically says: Genuflect or bow your head in shame anytime you encounter a piece of music that's foreign to you; otherwise, keep away.

Posted by scott woods on January 5, 2005 12:55 AM



further to newsom: anyone who can make that harp jangle like a banjo will drive the winsome from the room, along with your self-styled raver. I mean, what's more winsome than plastic clothes? You can pee your pants in them and it won't even show. Newsom's got my vote.

Posted by Sean on January 4, 2005 10:46 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson