Joanna Newsom’s first album in five years finds the musician lending her ornate songcraft and magical imagery to an album that at its plainest, examines relationships and the effects of the passage of time. “Anecdotes” begins the album with woodland noise and shortly reintroduces Newsom’s piano, harp and uncommon croon, her lyrics painting slices of life of a soldier laying land mines and returning home, summing up the sentiment it portrays with the line, “Anecdotes cannot say what Time may do.” Newsom’s lyrics are as inscrutable as ever—“Sapokanikan” refers to a Native American village that once stood where Greenwich Village now lies and references Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem about a fallen Egyptian pharaoh, “Ozymandias”—but they’re in service of her central theme, as she sings, “the records they left are cryptic at best, lost in obsolescence.” The arrangements by Newsom, Nico Muhly, Ryan Francesconi and Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) tickle the songs with orchestral brushes and lend rock pulse to songs like “Leaving the City.” Shorter songs appear, like “The Things I Say,” a downtrodden, countrified piano ditty with lyrics both direct (“I’m ashamed of half the things I say”) and fanciful (“When the sky goes thinkin’ Paris, France, do you think of the girl who used to dance when you’d frame the movement within your hands”) that ends in a rain of beaming guitars. These serve to as breathers before sinking into epics like “Divers,” which gives Newsom’s harp and malleable voice room to roam as she intones, “How do you choose your life? How do you choose the time you must exhale and kick and writhe?” Like Newsom’s previous work, Divers demands close attention. Her albums are the antithesis of instant gratification, which is perversely likely why she’s become so popular as an out-of-time balladeer despite sounding more medieval than millennial—her songs beg that you drop what you’re doing, lest you miss one of her witticisms or whimsies. It’s a strangely soothing effect, harkening back to the time of following lyric sheets and sitting to listen to music as a solitary activity. Despite being seeped in melancholia, Divers ends on the somewhat positive note of “Time As a Symptom.” Newsom cries about the “joy of life” as owls hoot and birds chirp in the background, declaring, “the moment of your greatest joys sustains.” Divers may be concerned with the fleeting nature of time, but it’s a convincing bid at artistic permanence.
Out Sept. 25
The Scottish trio made electro-pop gems splattered with emotion on their beguiling debut. For album No. 2, they’re just getting craftier on songs like the anthemic “Never Ending Circles.”
Joanna Newsom with Kevin Barker at Old Ironsides, Sacramento CA, July 10, 2004. Photo by Alissa Anderson.
Once upon a time, or nearly ten years ago, a couple of bands combined their like-minded pursuit of music, travel, and kindred jamming and took to the road for what would later be known as the "Magical Tour of Two Thousand and Four" or The Family Jams, as revealed in Kevin Barker's tour documentary of the same name. Perhaps a more accurate description of the happening would be to say that it was an extended jaunt comprised of artists caught in Devendra Banhart's orbit at the time -- an Earthbound constellation of celestial talents that, for better or for worse, birthed the term Freak Folk. Though the documentary captures intimate performances and would-be private moments of many hearts and artists, the camera focuses mainly on Banhart, Vetiver, and Joanna Newsom.
Various Artists - Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1
I. Love. Compilations! Especially when they are lovingly assembled over long periods of time by obsessive crate diggers. This is one such collection, compiled by the Sacred Bones Records founder Caleb Braaten, born of a love for exhuming rare tracks from barely-heard and in some cases "un-Googleable" Post-Punk, Deathrock, and Dark Punk ensembles. Began in 2007, this passionate piece of dedicated Deathrock devotion is finalized and finally seeing the light. Note: the LP is limited to 150 pressed on pink vinyl so, like, be ready to snatch yours up. Out January 21st.
Cibo Matto - Hotel Valentine
It'll be impossible for single party people to suffer a sad and lonely Valentine's Day in 2014 because Cibo Matto's first new album in fifteen years, Hotel Valentine, drops on February 14th! And they're making it an extra sexy release what with the limited first press made on clear/cream vinyl. The album itself is kind of of a concept centered around a of love hotel or something, but the usual zany grooves, random raps, funky breaks, Sci-Fi wasabi, jazzy interludes, island flava and extended dance jams make this album feel like their excellent last album, Stereo Type A, wasn't released as long ago as 1999. I mean, are the 90s back or does the Cibo Matto sound possess an infallible timelessness? Yes, and it's about time.
Valerie June started her Sept. 19 set at Amoeba Hollywood with little fanfare, playing guitar steadily and humming hypnotically to a stripped-down version of the title track to Pushin' Against a Stone (on CD or LP), the title track to her fourth and breakthrough album. On record, it's a fuzz-guitar laden soul number; live, June appeared solo, strumming her guitar and allowing her voice to grow slowly over time, moving from low and earthy to high and keening like Joanna Newsom's. "I ain't fit to be no mother" she sang on "Workin' Woman Blues," the album's awesome opener. Though her playing style was rudimentary, she got her point across, playing rough blues riffs and strumming open notes for a droning effect.
Even with a big name producer on her album like The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Valerie June isn't an artist who's been polished to a professional sheen. She still came off as an eccentric, saying little and hiding behind sunglasses. While she sometimes played furiously and sang her heart out, it seemed as though she was playing to herself, alone in a room—something that didn't hurt her performance, but rather made it all the more curious.