I don’t know how often I have mentioned on this blog that Joanna Newsom’s Ys was an incredibly formative album for me. Feels like it has been an awful lot, but it is hard to really get across how big an album this was for me in 2007. I listened to it mainly because it was ranked by the Metro as their album of the year in 2006.
The following months meant a lot of repeat listens to the point that it pretty much drove my mum mad. It was also an album that I ripped onto my Xbox 360 so I could listen to it in the background whilst playing games of Viva Pinata as well as having a track that I completely transcribed onto the back of one of my chemistry exercise books. That’s how important an album this was to me.
Ys was like nothing I had really heard before – and this is from the era that I had become a Bjork obsessive. The lyrics were so multi-layered and dense to the point that I am still listening to it some 14 years later and having different phrases catch my ear. Granted, there are still some things, like the entirety of ‘Monkey & Bear’ and the astrophysics line of ‘Emily’ that are forever etched into my soul.
Joanna Newsom’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea. I really understand that and felt broadly the same about Anohni’s voice until a few years ago. Hell, I find her album The Milk-Eyed Mender to have a few moments that just cut through me like a knife. But with Ys she exudes charm and an extreme ability on the harp. How often is a hard the primary instrument on an album, especially played with the polyrhythms that I don’t think I have heard outside of her music.
Ys is an album of beauty that delights and challenges. It has so many moments in these absurdly long songs – ranging from 7 to 17 minutes – that stick out. The opening harp of ‘Cosmia’ and the section in ‘Only Skin’ that begins with the lines ‘All my bones they are gone, gone, gone’ are some of my favourites and are both incredibly different from one another. I listen to her work on ‘Sawdust & Diamonds’ and am in just complete awe of her dexterity – let alone being able to play and sing at the same time.
Truly this is one of the most important albums in my life. I can imagine, if I had any talent or real need to be a singer, this would be an album I would talk about in interviews. It is the album that probably helped send me on the path to Illinois and eventually a short obsession with Florence + The Machine.