Joanna Newsom 


For her second album, this local indie-folk icon got everything she asked for. She recruited Steve Albini to record her voice and harp, Van Dyke Parks to arrange and coproduce a thirty-piece orchestra, and Jim O'Rourke to mix. Newsom commissioned a lavish cover painting and elaborate packaging, including a CD booklet coated in gold leaf. The music is a further indulgence: long songs (five in 55 minutes), thousands of words, dense imagery, and nothing approaching a pop tune. Setting aside the overly fussy production, Ys is an album of great moments that wears and feels claustrophobic over the course of an hour. There's no respite from Newsom's voice and words, words, words; she sings constantly, the lyrics running for 23 pages. Never does music alone do the talking. It's almost as if she knew this album, with its prestigious collaborators and elaborate packaging, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she felt compelled to fill every inch of space. Compromise and limitation demand resourcefulness and can lead to better art, but both are absent here.


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