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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: Joanna Newsom’s new album may not be for everyone

    With her first album release in 2002, Joanna Newsom is a long-time member of the alternative-music scene. However, like blue cheese, her music requires a certain taste; people either love it or loathe it. 

    Newsom embraces and develops this individual aspect of her music with her new LP, Divers, which is out now and available for streaming on NPR’s website.

    Historically, Newsom’s songs sound simplistic and incredibly organic, making them difficult to compare to those of any other artist. Her earlier songs consisted of a harp and her atypical, pixie-like voice; an unorthodox duo making her music a bit much for some people. Despite their eccentric qualities, her songs are playful and whimsical.

    As demonstrated through Divers tracks, Newsom’s vocal range and sound overall have immensely developed when compared to her last release, “Have One on Me,” from 2010. She demonstrates much more control over her voice and manipulates it beyond her usual high-pitched range. She still relies on her voice’s upper register for a large majority of her songs, but now counters her high-pitched vocals with less harsh, lower-pitched tones, complimenting her style well.

    Her music’s construction on Divers is more complex than previous albums. I’ve listened to Newsom before, and let me tell you: I expected the simplistic, unaltered music for which she is known, but was instead pleasantly surprised to hear a variety of new instruments and harmonies absent from her previous works. She hasn’t completely lost the organic component of her music, but has developed it into something still honest, just more complex. She utilizes different strings, pianos, and even synths to elaborate on her buoyant ideas.

    Divers shows Newsom developed her style over these past five years. The first song of the new album, “Anecdotes,” resembles her previous songs with a focus on her harp, but is also fleshed out with a piano and flute. As her album continues, different influences begin to appear throughout her work.

    There is an almost blues element in songs “Same Old Man” and “Goose Eggs.” This sound expresses in different harmonies, chord progressions, and instrumental highlights typical of blues, but mixes in with her classical and alternative sound. These songs are definitely a bit of an unexpected departure from her previous work. I’m not totally convinced these particular influences fit into Newsom’s whimsical songs, but she somehow pulls it off.

    Newsom has taken to the darker side of life, as some of her songs leave listeners feeling almost dispirited. 

    I find this new quality to be very attractive, as it gives her a whole new attitude that I think people felt before when listening to her music, but never heard. Two of her new songs in particular, “Leaving The City” and “Divers,” offer these powerful builds that give Newsom a really forceful presence she’s never exuded before.

    Overall, the album was a success in terms of Newsom’s growth. Again, I think this album, or more so the eccentric Newsom, requires a certain musical taste not everyone has. 

    Divers is worth the listen, but I’m not going to promise you’ll like it.

    Follow Thea Van Gorp on Twitter.

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