Release Date: Oct 23, 2015
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
While the five years since the stunning triple album Have One On Me have seen Joanna Newsom expanding her horizons with acting roles and guest spots, Divers happily proves that her strengths remain in producing utterly individual, visionary albums of rare inspiration, intellect and beauty. Opening track Anecdotes places the listener in the throes of combat as the narrator ponders the temporality of time and futility of war while animatedly detailing interactions with excellently named comrades Rufous Nightjar and Private Poorwill (the “hotdogging loon, caught there like a shard in the mirror of the moon!”). Nico Muhly’s arrangement allows Newsom to ease the listener in, with a spare, piano-led introduction quickly embellished by intricate parts for strings weaving and ducking around clarinets and trombone as Newsom’s harp comes to the fore.
With her latest masterpiece, Joanna Newsom mostly jettisons the sprawling and the slow-building in favour of punchier, more immediate compositions. ?This, inadvertently, also coincides with her fourth long-player being the poppiest of her records, to date. Well, you know - ‘pop’ in a Joanna Newsom kind of way. Ask any music lover – perhaps not those who, when talking about their listening tastes, state: “Oh, I like everything” – and they’d admit to having at least one artist with whom they’ve got that specialrelationship, whereby the release of new music by that artist makes them that much more excited about life.
I was a non-believer for a pretty long time. Joanna Newsom was an artist I just didn’t “get.” I was too busy being pretentious about Pavement in my younger years to really give her quirky, baroque complexities and off-kilter vocal style a chance. Hell, I even came around on liking Swans before her stuff clicked for me. Hopefully, my initial disinterest and naiveté may convince another skeptical listener to give Newsom’s new album, Divers, a shot.
What is the place beyond the dawn? Joanna Newsom forces us to ask the question from the first lyrics of her latest and possibly greatest album, Divers. The word “place” implies a spatial plane, perhaps death visualized as an expanse of blackness; it could likewise be a symbolic dawn, a place before the “beginning. ” But why are the scouts being “sent over from” it, with that strange choice and ordering of words? The timeline Newsom establishes in these first two lines is opaque and not quite in accordance with how we traditionally think of time or of life and death, if that is indeed what it is.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Historically, the music of Joanna Newsom doesn't fit in an urban setting. The narratives take place near streams, in forests, and oftentimes, up in the cosmos. Even when her words make their way toward specific settings in history, it still sounds as if the city that we're suddenly in is another part of her imagination.
If any contemporary artist can be said truly to have kept alive the spirit of the Summer of Love, it has to be Joanna Newsom. California born and bred, clutching an enormous harp and trilling 17 minute songs of bewildering complexity on albums named after mythical Breton cities: even in the headiest days of psychedelia, she would have been a true one off. After releasing three critically and commercially successful albums within six years (the last of which, Have One On Me, was a triple disc offering), Newsom has been quiet for the past five years, concentrating instead on an appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Inherent Vice and marrying actor/comedian Andy Samberg.
1. Trauma Honey, where did you come by that wound?. It’s hard to say. There is some trauma in everything. In discovery, I am powerless and vulnerable, and yet I continue to discover as if I have no choice but to open myself to pain. What about you?.
On each of her LPs to date, California-bred singer, songwriter and harpist Joanna Newsom has expanded and, always subtly, redefined her sound. On her last album, 2010's magnum opus Have One On Me, that meant stepping back slightly from the density of her ornate sophomore album, 2006's Ys. Have One On Me was sprawling, but structuring it as three sets of six songs each made every move in her elegant, urgent suites feel controlled and purposeful, as Newsom unfurled her magnificent compositions with an unerring sense of narrative and musical mastery.
Listening to traditional folk music, particularly from regions like the Appalachians or Catskills in times before and just after the Civil War, is like the best time machine you could envision. Moments of frightening specificity ("I dug your grave last night" from "Pretty Polly") combine with a general sense of lost love and melancholy ("Pretty Saro") to form a wholly realized snapshot of a setting that seems beyond time and place. .
Joanna Newsom's Divers is an album about a profound love, but it hardly features any love songs. The singer/songwriter recently explained to Uncut that her marriage in 2013 had invited death into her life, "because there is someone you can't bear to lose," she said. "When it registers as true, it's like a little shade of grief comes in when love is its most real version.
"We mean to stop, in increments, but can't commit/We post and sit, in impotence/The harder you hit, the deeper the dent," Joanna Newsom spits on "Leaving The City" — a storm system of consonance and assonance that morphs between harp-led Renaissance courtly dance and social-media-damning, Mellotron-amped rap rock. The California-bred singer-songwriter may represent like an ambassador for the Society for Creative Anachronism. But to paraphrase psychedelic swami Ram Dass, she sure can be here now.
Since her enduringly lovely third album, 2010’s ‘Have One On Me’, Joanna Newsom has turned her oddball cult into an empire. Between fancy fashion shoots, starring as Sortilège, the earthy narrator of noir flick Inherent Vice and marrying comedian Andy Samberg, the harpist – treasured for her knotty compositions, wicked wordplay and quizzical, pipsqueak vocals – has emerged as indie’s least-likely infiltrator of pop culture. So it’s reassuring that, five years on, the 33-year-old is back with something utterly predictable: yet another masterpiece.
In the five years since Joanna Newsom released her most recent masterpiece, the triple-album Have One on Me, her absence has been greatly felt within the alternative landscape. Her uniqueness derives from her voice — with its signature timbre that evokes youthfulness and world-weariness simultaneously — as well as her writing style, plucking references from history and mythology without ever diluting the emotional message that foregrounds her songs. While there has been no shortage of excellent indie-folk albums from artists this decade (notably Angel Olsen’s Burn Fire for No Witness and Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse), no one has been able to quite capture the beguiling and singular approach of Newsom, with her winding, involved stories and ability to sound both completely out of time and remarkably current at once.
It’s been some time since Joanna Newsom’s records actually sounded as medieval as her harping. Divers, her fourth album, concerns itself less with totem animals, rural landscapes and myth, the most easily grasped themes of her first two albums, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) and Ys (2006). Instead, five years on from 2010’s three-disc Have One on Me, Newsom is wrapping chords and polysyllables around air travel and metaphysics, love and war.
If music is a time machine, able to transport listeners to different places and eras as well as deep into memories, then Joanna Newsom steers Divers as deftly as Jules Verne. She flits to and from 18th century chamber music, 19th century American folk music, '70s singer/songwriter pop, and other sounds and eras with the lightness of a bird, one of the main motifs of her fourth full-length. Her on-the-wing approach is a perfect fit for Divers' themes: Newsom explores "the question of what's available to us as part of the human experience that isn't subject to the sovereignty of time," as she described it in a Rolling Stone interview.
Since her debut ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender,’ Joanna Newsom has been cultivating her outlying aesthetic in fairly drastic leaps and bounds. With roots set fast in Appalachian folk tradition, ‘Y’ saw the Nevada City-born harpist turn from intricate one-level melodies towards discordant, clashing polyrhythms. Typically, Newsom rather eloquently dismissed them as “wanky” at a later date, and swerved the opposite way again on the follow-up; steeped in baroque, gold-hilted grandeur, and painting swirling, sublime seascapes.
In the five years since we last heard from Joanna Newsom on her sprawling, 3-disc release Have One on Me she’s gotten married, ventured into acting, and if her latest album Divers is any indication, gained some new perspective. Where Have One and its predecessor, the densely woven Ys, found Newsom stretching out across compositions and exploring them to their fullest, here she has reigned in her artier proclivities in favor of the succinctness of her debut. This isn’t to say she has altogether abandoned the stylistic framework within which she’s been operating for the better part of a decade.
Until Divers, each of Joanna Newsom’s albums could be traced to a distinct point in her narrative. Her debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, collected and repurposed earlier material from her self-released CD-Rs and introduced the public to a wild-singing, harp-plucking, melodically direct songwriter from the tiny town of Nevada City, California. On follow-up Ys, Newsom went an entirely new direction, choosing to meander over sprawling compositions, showing that she could maintain the type of focus over long-form songwriting that would make even the noodliest jam bands jealous.
It’s been five years since we’ve heard from Joanna Newsom; five years since she wrapped up her magnificent Have One on Me with the heartbroken lament ‘Does Not Suffice’. In the time since then, time itself has been her main concern. Divers, her extraordinary fourth record, is about many things, but ultimately it’s about humanity: souls ‘stuck together and squashed together, living and dying and making noise and smelling weird and falling in love, creating beauty and fighting with each other,’ as illuminated by the singer in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, wherein time is our omniscient sculptor; the plane in which all things flourish (and wither).
Layers upon layers: Joanna Newsom's fourth album is - as we've grown to expect from her - intricate, dense and heady. Its melodies, grand themes concerning history and time, and esoteric textures (a lot of keyboards, along with chamber arrangements) take a while to sink in. But sink in they do upon repeat listens. Newsom strikes a balance between folk and the crazy full-blown orchestral arrangements of Ys.
Joanna Newsom arrives at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 20, 2015, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Joanna Newsom is surely the only orchestral-harp playing, bird-watching, fairy-tale loving best-seller in indie-pop. In the months before the arrival of her fourth studio album, "Divers" (Drag City), she appeared in and narrated Paul Thomas Anderson's 2014 movie, "Inherent Vice," and the director returned the favor by overseeing the video for her latest single, "Sapokanikan." With her warbling, childlike voice, dense wordplay and genre-melting arrangements, the Californian is nothing if not an original.
It’s a mistake to think you can listen to Joanna Newsom halfheartedly or, worse, in the background. Her byzantine compositions arrest the listener, feeling like portals into an alternate reality that scrambles all sense of time and place. On “Divers,” her breathtaking follow-up to 2010’s “Have One on Me,” the singer, songwriter, and harpist affirms her stature as a visionary.
Why “Divers” as an album title? Because its lyrics contain diving as a metaphor for love and moving through time. Maybe, also, because that is the Middle English spelling of diverse, a word that hints at the multiplicity in Joanna Newsom’s work. She plays the harp using polyrhythms; the sound of her music reflects the serious singer-songwriter folk-pop of the 1970s, American folk traditions, art song and operetta.
Reading reviews the first week of a new Joanna Newsom album is like watching freight trains fall over. No critical darling in popular music over the last 10 years invites more exhaustingly polar shades of adoration (overwrought purpleness on the one side) and contempt (clueless hissy fits on the other). Lotsa people love her, lotsa people can’t stand her, but what ties both the love and the hate together is bewilderment.
Listening to Joanna Newsom’s newest record, Divers, feels like taking a wistful stroll through a field overrun with vibrantly colored wildflowers. The overwhelming sense of beauty that surrounds you as you take in song after song is both real and palpable. With so many different sonic textures working against and in concert with one another, you inevitably find yourself getting lost in a hazy dream state between the waking world and the one that she has created out of thin air.
Joanna Newsom — Divers (Drag City)Joanna Newsom’s first album in five years — following a period when she got married, sang the theme to the Muppet Show and narrated Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice — is a very assured and cohesive set of songs, melding Newsom’s prickly lyric sensibility and cracked, idiosyncratic singing style with lush arrangements. She continues, here, to work the kinks out of her singing style, sanding down the rough, frictive element that, to me, made the prettiness palatable. Just enough of the croak remains, in the crevices and interstices of her lyrics, to keep things interesting, but it’s a waning element, and some day, one supposes, it will disappear altogether.