Joanna Newsom: Divers - Album Review

Fri, Oct 23, 2015, 00:00



Joanna Newsom

Drag City


Joanna Newsom’s first record since 2010 is an astonishingly intricate and compelling piece of work. Divers is a musical hall of mirrors, existing in a world of the binary, where opposite forces conspire to create her richest and most satisfying record to date.

The enigmatic, all-conquering grandeur of Anecdotes is a beautiful baroque composition in which clarinet and the clarity of the harp greatly complement Newsom’s vocals, which have begun to reveal new depths.

Over the past few years she has assembled an interesting set of colleagues: arrangers such as Nico Muhly, Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, members of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and Steve Albini (who co-produced). Kim Keever’s extraordinary artwork accompanies the album: landscapes and disintegrating worlds are viewed from a distance to subtly allow us to see more more clearly.

This meticulous and concise piece of work is actually Newsom’s most layered. The playful Sapokanikan takes in many influences; a sense of ragtime flits and flies around glockenspiel and flute, and lyrics speak to a less-obvious history of New York (“Sapokanikan” was the name of a Native American village, now Greenwich Village).

Goose Eggs looks south towards country, with its sloping guitar and lyrics full of regret and introspection. Waltz of the 101st Lightborne and the cover of Same Old Man both reference Irish and Scottish traditional, with the latter making lovely use of the banjo. The melancholy, piano-led The Things I Say, with its ghostly drone flecks, is starkly poetic.

Divers is an illuminating exploration of the labyrinthine nature and meaning of time and love, with Newsom’s vision revealing itself most majestically on Time, as a Symptom, whereon fragile birdcalls and her singular voice move toward an epic conclusion full of strings, horns, and percussion. It is a profound, immersive experience that somehow washes everything clean.

“Love is not a symptom of time/Time is just a symptom of love,” she sings, confirming Newsom’s position as an extraordinary artist, with what is a most considered and exceptional record.