Thursday, February 14, 2008

My New Sonic Love Story

Last night, I fell asleep listening to Joanna Newsom. Of course, this was another musical discovery thanks to Last.fm, which I always keep playing during my planning period while I'm grading papers, and Newsom is occasionally streamed when I'm listening to "artists like Iron and Wine". I'm guessing the connection between the two is a melodic connection to the music of the Appalachians, although Newsom grew up and still lives around San Francisco.

That description, however, is kind of lacking for the quite unusual sound that Newsom produces. Imagine that Bjork and Isaac Brock (lead singer of Modest Mouse) issued forth from their metaphorical loins in the music and language centers of their brains a child, fully formed into the personification of the hybridization of their singing styles. Now, I'll be the first to admit that Bjork sucks. She's kind of cute in a weird way, but her singing grates on my nerves. Newsom avoids crossing that threshold between weird-but-captivating and just annoying, but her shifting, wandering vocals really do hearken to the singing style of Iceland's swan-wearing songstress.

Now, continuing on with the brain child metaphor, the child was born in the early Renaissance and later trained in classical music, but then was kidnapped to the present by Nigerian militants who'd somehow come across a time machine and thought that kidnapping this Celtic bard would somehow enable them to more easily capture an offshore oil platform in the Niger Delta. The child was then able to escape by entrancing the less-than-logical criminals with her hypnotic harp playing and fled to hippy-filled San Francisco, where she was exposed to the more avant-garde aspects of American indie rock. What you have left is the child-like voice of Newsom rolling and falling over orchestrations that combine musical influences from classical, Celtic, folk, and West African playing styles.

Now, I admit, I've probably already scared many of you off, and the fact that it's not as easy to find her mp3s as those of other, more mainstream artists will push you further from giving her a fair chance, but Last.fm does have a few 30-second samples and a few videos, that I'm assuming involve full-length renditions, although I've got a feeling you'll lose some of the complexity of the music due to the lower sound quality (actually, after watching a video, I'd avoid these as a method for first impressions). But, seriously, if you get the opportunity, give Newsom a chance. If you can get over the oddness of the voice (which was love-at-first-listen for me, but apparently one of the main detractors for some), it's likely you'll fall in love with the music.

14 comments:

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

If you are interested in more music from Joanna Newsom, try looking within the threads of , a forum for dedicated fans of Joanna. If you look hard enough, you can find links to entire concerts, her older out-of-print cd's, concert information, and a lot more. And, if youtube's videos leave you wishing for something a little better, try this concert video, and a couple of shorter videos, that I posted at stage6.com. Also, flickr.com is a good place to look for photos of Joanna. There is enough music, videos, photos, and info available online to keep a newcomer to Joanna occupied for a long time. If you want to hang out with people who love her music, just drop into the pond at milkymoon. New tadpoles are always welcome. And tell them that polliwog sent you. :)

William said...

Sorry about the way my post looks. I tried twice, but the final post ends up looking very different from the preview...which looked correct. Anyway, the word 'milkymoon' should have appeared before that long underlined section, and it should have been the only word containing a hyperlink...except for the last three words of that section, 'this concert video', which is a separate link.

Jacob said...

Wow, how in the world did you find this post this quick? I've never seen you comment before and all of the sudden it's an entirely relevant (and useful) comment about an artist that's not exactly mainstream. Thanks for the links.

Chris said...

I'm gonna take a stab and say this William guy is getting paid to do viral PR for Joanna Newsom. Even so, you appreciated the information, so I guess PR isn't entirely, 100% pure evil.

For me, yeah the vocals are a bit too Bjork-like. The music is very pretty, though.

Courtney said...

I don't like Bjork either. I just can't forgive her for that dead swan dress.

Mickey said...

That william bit sure is interesting. He's a lot more useful than Barb Michelen.

I've been playing catch-up on my comments, Jacob. It just occurred to me: if you're doing Blog365, then I guess I'm doing Comment365. Not intentional, but any post deserves a comment.

Jacob said...

I find it a little hard to believe that this sort of musician is utilizing viral advertising schemes, but I could be wrong, but have you seen her official website that I linked to? Not exactly a high-tech endeavor. Besides, the site he links to isn't an official site for Newsom. Besides, if advertising were customized enough to where I ask a question about steak and steak companies pimp their information sites, I'd be cool with that. Not so much the make money typing from home ads.

William said...

Hi, it's me again. No, I don't get paid to do viral PR work. (lol) I found you through a little thing called Google Alerts. I like to read things people say about Joanna, both good and bad, so Google sent me an alert about this place. I always have to laugh when people compare Joanna to Bjõrk. Maybe Neil Young, but not Bjõrk. (lol, again)

Jacob said...

Neil Young? Why is it that all of the appropriate comparisons are of singers who suck? I hate most of what Neil Young does. There are only a couple of songs of his that I don't hate. I think Bjork is a less of an insulting comparison.

I also noticed on the site that you link to that she's not fond of the child-like comparisons, which I understand. It can imply a lack of experience and skill, but I think it's just a quality of the voice that creates that effect. It's obviously far too sophisticated to be an actual child singing, but there's something to it.

William said...

Jacob, I've read Joanna's voice compared to many different singers, and there is often someone who takes a comparison the way you did. I've done it myself a few times. Neil Young has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and when I first heard Joanna almost three years ago, I noticed similarities with Neil. Then, I learned that Neil had learned about Joanna, and got her to open one of his shows. Although I don't see the similarity to Bjõrk, Joanna has been the opening act for Bjõrk, too. It seems that fans of many different singers and musicians are finding commonalities between Joanna and their favorites. I don't expect anyone to like the same music I do...even Joanna's. But, if someone expresses an interest, I'm more than happy to share what I know.

NoRegrets said...

Jacob, I'm next in line to be interviewed by the person who interviewed you, and so read your interview, interview. (just wanted to add another interview)

How far are you willing to go with your music taste? Check out wfmu.org and you will certainly be musically challenged. I'll check out last.fm.

Jacob said...

William, if you check back for some reason, I wasn't arguing. It just seemed weird to me that I hear Bjork, you hear Neil Young (which I can kind of see, the question mark was intended to imply mulling it over instead of disbelief) and that I hate both of those musicians as singers and yet I absolutely love Newsom as a singer.

I'm trying to figure out what it is that makes me like Newsom and dislike so many of the singers with similar aspects to their styles.

Noregrets: I'm listening to WFMU right now, the Acapulco Dance Party playing "Allurement" by Fushitsusha to be precise, and while I tend to lean toward more everyday dork indie rock (Built to Spill, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Modest Mouse, etc.) I have a pretty open mind when it comes to music. Not as open as a college friend who turned me on to a lot of the weirder stuff, but still pretty open.

William said...

Don't worry Jacob. I didn't think that you were arguing. In the three years since I first heard Joanna, I've seen her compared to so many different singers, many of whom I can't stand, and others that I can at least tolerate. The fact that Björk and Neil Young don't do it for you is between you and...well, you. I doubt that any two of us like everything the other does. It continually amazes me that so many people with such diverse tastes in music, fall in love with Joanna and her music...and that pretty much everyone else who hears her, absolutely cannot stand the way she sounds. My own tastes in music span just about every genre, with huge gaping holes filled with performers I prefer to avoid
, and peaks here and there where the artists I love hang out. Joanna has been above them all since that first glimpse of her Sprout and the Bean video on April 1, 2005. To this day, I still can't quite put a finger on why. Oh well.