I absolutely love Joanna Newsom.
I was just talking with friends the other day, sharing our hopes that Newsom would return possibly after winter, early next year. Her last album, the monumental triple-disc Have One On Me was not only a masterpiece; it sustained enough soul-chilling moments to last us the past half-decade.
So expectations are kind of high for her upcoming album, Divers. Announced today along with this video, it’s coming a week after my birthday: October 23, this year.
The Sapokanikan video, a whirlwind of a single take through the nighttime streets of Manhattan, was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Yes, the director of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood. He’s the guy who coaxed a fearless and soaring performance out of Joaquin Phoenix, opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, in The Master, one of my favorite films of all time. He’s one of the greatest living film directors, and you can feel it in the deceptively simple framing of this short work.
The setup honestly looks and feels a lot like the opening of Louis CK’s brilliant self-titled show, haunting the sidewalks of an unnamed New York neighborhood. It’s a humble setup for the thrilling musical fireworks.
Her voice has fully matured from its manic fairy roots into something closer resembling a massive pipe organ, able to deliver complex melodies that range the entire scale with a virtuosity that’s literally unrivaled today. If you ever had reservations about Newsom before, likely because of that precocious pixie sound on her first album, leave them behind and hit play.
She is the real deal, a classical vocalist (and harpist, piano player, etc) who delivers gripping narratives with supple melodicism. Her songs are both innately catchy and lyrically labyrinthine. She gets my head nodding and sends me digging through the thesaurus.
I listened to this song three times in a row before even watching the video. There’s so much going on, so subtly layered together, that it takes multiple listens to even process what’s going into my ears. This comes as no surprise from a woman whose last work was one of my favorite albums of 2010. That 2+ hour behemoth was worth every second, filled end to end with a dazzling arrangement of sumptuous, intricately crafted tales of love and life on the road, of learning new love, and of losing it permanently.
Be careful with that last link; the song ends in tears every time. In fact, I just listened for the first time in months and cried all over again. That’s how powerful this woman is. Lyrically, melodically, instrumentally, with a voice that’s unlike anyone I’ve ever heard, she’s an artist of the highest order. I’m so happy to know she’s got so much more for us, so soon.