Joanna Newsom: Ys

Sophisticated orchestral magic from your favourite harp player

An album title taken from a mythical Breton city; songs that last 20 minutes; string arrangements by brainy Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks; cover art depicting Joanna Newsom as a Druid priestess; at least one lyric (“spelunking”) that’ll have you reaching for the nearest dictionary; bassoons. Yes, the second album from this puff-sleeved,

24-year-old harp pixie is not exactly one designed for the Fratellis fan in your life. But, over the course of ‘Ys’’s five songs – five very long songs – Newsom establishes herself as one of the few true visionaries currently working in American music.

Comprising a set of adult fairy tales bedded in Fuzzy Felt orchestral soundscapes so lush and ornate that they have more in common with Walt Disney’s Fantasia than anything else around at the moment, ‘Ys’ is a record unafraid to use 12 violins when only one will do. Despite all of this, though, Newsom has managed to lessen the twee factor of her last record (roping in gravel-voiced type Bill Callahan of Smog helps, as does singing in a way that sounds less like a five-year-old), in the process crafting an album as bewitching as it is odd. If you claim you’ve ever heard anything like it before, then you’re a liar. And if you’re looking for an album to lose yourself in over the winter hibernation period, you’ve come to the right place.

Pat Long

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