Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Song of the Day #181 - Joanna Newsom - Sapokanikan

To which a hunter, a hundred years from now, may look and despair


Okay this is ACTUALLY HAPPENING. I would have thought I was dreaming but I can't dream of something this good. A miracle of this power is beyond fantasy, only the genius of reality can bring it about. New Joanna Newsom single. New album out on October 23rd. And I am actually awake and this is reality, the same reality that I'll continue living in when October 23rd comes around. Allow me to commit one of the greatest musical sins conceivable and forget about Dre. I don't even care if Swish comes out anymore. We're getting a new Joanna Newsom album and that means my emotional soundtrack has been orchestrated for the foreseeable future. True religion feelings.

Let's get the bad news out of the way: while the triple album of Have One On Me clocked in at a whopping 2 hours and 4 minutes, the announced tracklist of Divers adds up only to 51 minutes and 52 seconds! Not even an hour! That's only 10 times the approximate half-life of uranium-241! That's only 3112 seconds! That's only long enough for light to travel 579.7 million miles! (I calculated the length on Wolfram-Alpha). Furthermore, there's no tracks longer than 8 minutes! Not just not longer than 10 minutes, but not even longer than 8! Barely longer than 7!! Is this even actually Joanna Newsom?

Okay, let's hear the track. Yes. Yes it is. It really clearly obviously is. In fact, this is prolly Joanna Newsom at her most Joanna Newsomest. Let's look at the opening lines: "The cause is Ozymandian/The map of Sapokanikan"... okay it starts with a reference to a pretty famous poem, but immediately turns it into an adjective, so understanding this allusion is just the very beginning of making meaning. And then she immediately uses this new adjective to describe the map of a place that I sure never heard of, maybe you have... It almost seems like a parody of herself, you know? Same with this simple, beautiful, wandering song... little piano exploration, little interjections of other instruments thematically, always twinkling and bright... like it's very close to how I would describe Joanna Newsom if I wanted to make some "how 2 joanna newsom" instructional video.

Oh, but what is Sapokanikan? When I google it, most of the results are for this single, lol. Ahh, but here's one - it's the name of one of the villages that used to be on Manhattan Island. Oh shit oh God now I get it. And now the Louis C.K.ian "PTA follows me around the city singing" video becomes like fifty times more powerful (the power level was already extremely high just watching her skip around singing, and being forced to remember that yes this voice actually does come out of an actual fleshy human being): she's giving us a little historical tour of Manhattan, reminding us of historical incidents of those that could claim some rule of New York, but that end up only in the most secret of tributes, mostly buried deep underground. Look and despair.

Oh mercy please seriously did you forget that Joanna Newsom by definition will have at least four layers of meaning, each more heartbreaking than the last? So while she weaves these stories into Shelly's archetype of pride preceding falls, all history becoming dust, and the endless procession of king after king, also fitting these narratives in with other artistic and historical examples beyond New York, she also weeps for each and every forgotten soul, is overwhelmed by the literally monumental task of memorializing all of them, and looks dreamily into the future with a tender but reserved heart? And you'd better believe that this links into a personal arc that will only be revealed through contextual analysis on the album. Only Sufjan Stevens can rival this sort of historical/personal/universal songwriting. I guess Neil Young back in the day. There's probably others too.

But omg can any of them nail a transition like she does at 2:50? Well, they could probably compete in metrics of timing and dynamic etc etc but it wouldn't be this sort of thing... Even Joanna Newsom herself hasn't had too many like this one, oh my lord. The vocal layering! The evolution of the instrumentation! The completely boundless emotional expression! Sasuga Joanna!

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