The consensus out there seems to be that one either loves or hates the music of Joanna Newsom. Maybe that’s a subtle code phrase for saying that Joanna Newsom is a truly unique artist, a sentiment with which I agree. Putting on any of her 4 albums is to listen to something that doesn’t sound like any other music out there, and the eclectic sounds and instrumentation on her new album ‘Divers‘ is an especially good example of this. It’s a tapestry full of sweeping orchestral bits falling over into a cascade of drums, harp, and harpsichord, all while Newsom’s singular vocals weave strange tales overtop.
There’s no doubt that the album, and each track on it, is complex. With layer upon layer of different instruments and background sounds, there is tons to listen for. The combination of all them, though, are what render all of the tracks so fascinating. Throughout the album Newsom weaves from classical sounding pieces, full of harp, like “Leaving the City” to the White Album-esque “Goose Eggs” to celtic-tinged numbers like “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” and the traditional “Same Old Man.” The sheer variety between the songs is incredible and Newsom’s inventiveness is on clear display throughout.
The flip side of the puzzle is the lyrical depth which she uses to paint rich (somewhat opaque) portraits of people, relationships, and life. Take the song “Sapokanikan,” in the video above (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, btw). Reading through the lyrics is like reading a poem by Keats or Wordsworth. There’s a story that slowly becomes clearer as you read and re-read (or listen). There are references to classical literature, myth, turn of the century politics, and more; there are interesting meter changes, a rhythm to the words that make the song more poetic than the majority of music out there.
This is true of almost every song on ‘Divers.’ It is truly an expertly crafted album in every sense of the word. The amount of thought put into the lyrical and musical construction make it one of the most interesting and complete albums you’ll ever listen through. That, too, is definitely the way to experience it. Even though singles are the currency of modern music, it truly is worth listening to this in its entirety in a sitting. Much like reading a good book or watching a literary film, heavy in metaphor, this album is a joy to actively listen to and parse, or to just sit back and enjoy.
Divers can be bought at Drag City records or in stores.