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Joanna Newsom – Ys

Released on Drag City, 11/14

Finally, an album with some meat on its bare bones! The streets are filled with three-and-a-half minute pop songs running scared, gawking at the sheer magnitude of Newsom’s latest release Ys (pronounced “eees”). It is a mighty album. With five songs clocking an impressive fifty-five minutes, it takes on the attitude of a film score or symphonic overture, but is laced with such moments of sweetness it often times lapses into some kind of childlike fairytale romp. But a word of warning: this album is not for the weak of heart and mind.

I feel the masses will be solidly divided between the lovers and the haters. This work is massive and sprawling, fantastical, unidentifiable, seemingly lost and then lovingly found. It forces the listener to engage. It takes time.

Newsom teamed up with an all-star group to lend a hand on this release. Her vocals and harp were recorded by minimalist indie god Steve Albini of Shellac fame but better known for sculpting the sounds of Nirvana and The Pixies. Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth, Tortoise) handled the mixing, and Van Dyke Parks, who was once commissioned by Brian Wilson for the ill-fated and long-awaited Smile album, put the orchestral arrangements together.

The entire album was recorded in analog, which speaks to its overall warmth, and mastered at Abbey Road Studios. And while this intimidating line-up may appear to be a failsafe, a leg-up, an excessive display of industry sway, Newsom consistently holds her own. There is never any question in the listener’s mind as to who is on display here.

Newsom is a lyricist in the truest of forms, a storyteller, a poet, a weaver of lush and flowing tapestries. Ys is a definitive statement against the gnarled and narrow pop path most artists are forced into for mainstream consumption. It is a bold and emblazoned move, an unabashed display of talent and, by far, one of the best albums of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars