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November CD of the Month: Joanna Newsom - Divers

Dan Burney

CD of the Month November 2015
James Calvet 

For any person that has been paying attention to independent music in the past ten years, Joanna Newsom has most likely crossed their path at least ten times. The multi-instrumentalist from California has made a name for herself not only as a skilled harpist and harpsichordist, but also a masterful songwriter. Her sophomore 2006 opus, Ys, struck a huge chord with critics and music fans alike. After the success of her second album, she had a lot to live up to on her follow up. 2010 brought her third album known as Have One On Me which incorporated more influences of jazz and blues across it's three disks and two hour run time. Much like her other albums, Have One On Me was a delicate, mindful and hard-hitting record that received much praise from many outlets. Since that album, Newsom had been making headlines for reasons including a marriage to actor Andy Samberg and a role in a successful Paul Thomas Anderson film. Now, five years after the release of Have One On Me, Newsom has finally created and released her fourth album, Divers, with marvelous results. 

In true Joanna Newsom style, the album opens like a great film with light string swells with the curtains eventually opening to show Newsom and her beloved harp. Though "Anecdotes" does not showcase anything that Newsom hasn't done before, the lush orchestration surrounding her eclectic croon fit so nicely together and sound like a fantastical folk story that has aged well over time. Unlike most Newsom records, "Leaving The City" incorporates layers if distorted electric guitars that sound close to medieval court horns. The track slowly builds into marches of drums, harps, guitars and vocals that cascade over one another in a polyrhythmic fashion that results in a calculated but anxious climax. In the middle of the album, the track "Goose Eggs" is a rollicking, swaying track with generous amounts of twangy electric guitar filled track that sounds closer to a country rock tune than a folk song. Strangely, the song works really well on a surface level but in true Newsom style, is incredibly strange when paid close attention to, and pays off tremendously.

The centerpice of the album is the seven-minute title track titled Divers, which may not be her longest composition, is as dense as her previous work. The track slowly grows by the second with layers of descending pianos, percussion much like a steady chase scene in the theater. The tension of the piece grows until the composition takes a turn for a major key tonality and evolves into an incredibly enjoyable pop song structure. Much like on Ys, the orchestral compositions are just as important as the singing and songwriting and on this composition they heighten the piece to incredible heights. The strings that wrap around Newsom's harp and voice are an engrossing and perfectly paired combination that is equally challenging and satisfying.

Though Divers may not be Joanna Newsom's opus, has released an album that is incredibly dense, smart and memorable. To compare Divers to Ys and Have One On Me is unfair but, when thinking critically, it is inevitable. Her new album may not have the cerebral or emotional impact that those two had at the time of their release, but Divers serves as a great starting point into her sound. For new listeners, this album is much more approachable in terms of song length and composition, but still offers enough to chew on to make the experience worth while. The compositions and pacing on the album are full and thoughtful and, much like her other albums, require multiple listens to truly reveal themselves to the person listening. Undoubtedly, Divers is a fantastic listen that will be remembered at the end of the year by critics and fans alike. At 2015 with her fourth full-length album, Divers proves to be a perfect addition to her discography and proves that she has become one of music's most important figures.Out now on Drag City Records, Divers by Joanna Newsom is Radio 1190's CD of the Month for November.