by Jordan Stead
Moving on from her 2004 debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender, American songwriter and harpist Joanna Newsom embarks on a fable of colossal magnitudes in her sophomore album titled Ys. Released in 2006, Ys (which derives from an old French myth surrounding the flooding of a city) stepped away from the rather idyllic storytelling of her previous album.
Accompanying the familiar harp and voice is an orchestra conducted by Van Dyke Parks, best known for his work with Brian Owens and the Beach Boys. Through this collaboration, Newsom introduces listeners to an intense new sound that traverses the shadowed matters of life – grief, sorrow, infidelity, and myth.
The ferocious wave of this album demands to be listened to with close attention, as each sound and word creates the tapestry of Newsom’s intended story.
Produced after the death of the artist’s close childhood friend, to whom the album is dedicated, it is no wonder that the listener is left with existential melancholy by the finale. With just five songs, the penultimate lasting for 17 minutes, Newsom reminds us that this endeavour is not a light one, and the stories she must tell come with difficult undercurrents. From the opener, ‘Emily’, an ode to her sister, through to the mythology that surrounds lovers in ‘Monkey & Bear’, to earth-shattering cries of grief in its finale, ‘Cosmia’: Ys becomes a howl for the human experience and beyond. Whimsical and fairy-like are unwelcomed terms for this record, and rightfully so. Ys is no fairy-tale but an Epic. Each song is a stunning labyrinthine of emotion and showcases a titanic power of artistry. Allow yourself to take Newsom’s hand and be guided into this world. You will never want to leave.