rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
Apologies for the prolongued hiatus, people. I haven't had much interesting to say. Today, though, I have new music to gush about.

The first time I listened to "Emily", the first 12-minute song on Joanna Newsom's new album Ys, I was really confused. I couldn't guess where Newsom's voice (which everyone compares to Bjork, but I'm sure I hear something in it that reminds me of the best early jazz musicians) was going to swoop next, or when and why she and the lush orchestra behind her were going to dance off in separate directions. By the tenth or eleventh minute of the song, I gave it grudging approval.

How can I describe the second listen? I felt like Mary Lennox, standing in the drab walkway and then pushing open the door to the secret garden, in a sudden blaze of sunlight on wild roses. Yes, that's a twee and overly cheesy analogy, but Newsom is always just on the near end of twee and overly cheesy herself. That is, unless she's gone all the way through and come out the other side.

The thing about writing a twelve-minute song, with lyrics that may just be the richest and most besotted with language I've ever heard set to music*, is that Newsom doesn't have to resolve her thoughts right away. Newsom can muse slowly, focusing on small details of what she sees ("the bones of the birches, and the spires of the churches, jutting out from the shadows; / the yoke, and the axe, and the old smokestacks, and the bale, and the barrow") and what she remembers ("Anyhow, I sat by your side, by the water / You taught me the names of the stars overhead, that I wrote down in my ledger"). She can raise tension almost unnoticeably, so that one doesn't recognize the bitterness of "Let us go! Though we know it's a hopeless endeavor / The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined, and hold us close forever" until the fourth listen. After all this, the song's final redemptive move comes as a gift, more valuable and meaningful for the ten minutes of journey.

We could stand for a century,
with our heads cocked,
in the broad daylight, at this thing:

Landlocked in bodies that don't keep--
dumbstruck with the sweetness of being
till we don't be.

*And I listen to Leonard Cohen quite a lot.


rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)

January 2017



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