67 days after the release of "Sapokanikan" and its announcement, Joanna Newsom's fourth album Divers has finally arrived. If you couldn't tell from my praise for her in my 2010 list (putting her above Kanye, even!) or my excessive rambling about 2006 classic "Emily" or the second single "Leaving the City", I am a pretty big fan of Joanna Newsom.
I was having a pretty annoying day... I found out my Youtube account was terminated this morning, which means I lost some 990ish videos (with 180+ subscribers and 550000ish views D:) and that felt pretty bad... Even worse, I lost my gigantic list of subscriptions (I think I was subscribed to like 700 channels), and I'm sure I'll never be able to find all of that content again... Probably a lot of neat stuff that I'll miss out on now. All because of a copyright strike on a stupid 8kbps video I made like 3 years ago! Ahhh, but what can you do?
Well seriously I'm not sure what I can do. I can try appealing it, or just resign myself to making a new one, or give up on Youtube because it was a waste of time anyways, and hope to be more productive in other areas with the time saved... It was a frustrating sort of problem, where you know that whatever choice you make, it would have been more effective if you had decided it sooner. Bahhh...
But I mean... I'm writing about this now, sure, and it still bothers me on an abstracted "objective" level, like I know it "ought" to still bother me, and nothing has been fixed, but it really doesn't matter, because I have this album now. I can currently turn to her three albums for comfort and support during trying times, and I have successfully reduced them to whatever annoyances I currently deal with, so now, with the addition of a fourth, I will become even more powerful, and nothing that currently matters will matter after. It's like how Christians turn to the Bible, if there was a new canonical gospel being released.
Is this hyperbole? Is this a "bit"? If I'm enjoying acting like it's true, does it really matter? Why should I bother with a reductive, realistic perspective when her music so easily facilitates these delusions? Uhhh... there's probably some good reasons. But who cares.
Joanna Newsom - Divers
Classic sort of intro... just one string gliding louder. AND THEN OWLS?? cute. wow her voice instantly in that glasslike register... All these images already, surrounding you... That flute, omg, the wavering of the flute... these little piano progressions... everything is coming alive around me!!! oh gosh "the greyscale of the night", and how does the sound become so full like this? All these flutes and stuff? Holy moly... all these shifts are like... the greater structure of the song is wholly indistinguishable. "I wanna go where the dew won't dry", what did she mean by this? woah okay there's something else going on here too, something in a lower register... YEAH, SYNTH SOUNDS, i knew it. holy fucijks. woah and then her voice at 5:10... how... lmao seems ridiculous that this actually exists. this is actually happening y'know. woah i love this little piano melody... okay okay. ***
OAHHAHAHHAAAHAA the way it lead into this song, that I have heard maybe 70 times, that sudden surge of familiarity, oh my lord. im so glad that my ipod is fixed and i never have to listen to this on my phone my phone does not deserve to butcher that transition. this is a "whimsical" sort of song at the start and then "shit gets real" at the transition, i anticipate the realness on every listen but i can never wholly remember just how good it is. i love at how around 2 minutes, it sort of hints at what will come, as her voice dips a little... it suggests the register space that she'll work in post-transition, same w/ the doubling around 2:30... OKAY HERE WE GO, hnnnnnng, oh man that piano... how is it that good... but at 3:19 is when it gets REAL REAL, look and despair motherfuckers, NO JK at 3:45, that's when it gets REAL HIP HOP REAL, that's gotta be the highlight of the whole album (jk i know it wont be lmao) i love how they bring back that little military drum there. look, and despair. and these chords at the end... so lively and yet so solid... statuesque. ***
3. Leaving the City
Another single, this one i've heard maybe 100 times before. it is... perfect? can you name one thing wrong with it? another really transition-based song. i have been informed that what i thought was an electric guitar was actually some other instrument. like at 1:22 it happens. she just goes in. like rich homie quan. "i swear to god i will never stop going in and if i break this promise i will kill andy samberg" could be the title of this album. and then the power of this image when she eases off for a second? it carries all that emotional weight, that momentum. it is WCW-esque as i said before. or the way at 2:20 she does a sort of "empty" version of the previous one, which HNGG that harp and then the DOUBLE VOCAL LAYERING at 2:48, maybe even triple? wow. wowowoowowowowow. ****
4. Goose Eggs
oooh, bluesy... cute. what a lively little riff. ahh gosh there's a lot happening here, settle down maybe hahahhaa. DUDE THESE DRUMS AND GUITAR, my jaw is literally dropping. a lot of these songs seem to have a sort of WWI narrative, her lover having to go to war or something. woah damn this is like a real country western sorta twang, it is almost painfully evocative. jesus christ how is any of this happening, how does any of this make sense? hudellegded e dehduh... i love this drum beat btw. she's just going crazy on this one, i really can't describe it... it's like something you'd try to describe and then halfway through go "nah that's impossible", "i said so much stuff it had to be impossible", at 3:45 omg... this reminds me of my absolute favorite things about the beatles lol. and the length of this instrumental outro is so nice... just letting us enjoy the aspects of what we just heard ***
5. Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
so like... beyond airborne? such is what her voice rn. Three wars won, the fourth was carelessly done? hmmm what does this mean?? it couldn't refer to her albums cause there's nothing careless about this. and again this sorta guitar tone... every aspect is just seizingly evocative. this is a jaunty little thing y'know, really does... "we came to see time is taller than space is wide"???? someone lashed to the prow? man this feels like a sad story put in a jaunty song, like all those old folk songs about ships sinking. AND THE ACCORDION, bro pls. "In the war between us and our ghosts" ????????? "Honey, where did you come by that wound?" awwwhehshesheeesh. hey this really is a waltz, too, isn't it? i just realized it's in 3 lol. WOAH, it's the PEACH PLUM PEAR VOCAL EFFECT, i missed you! and whistling? or something?? each instrument getting a turn? i remember a word called "twee" but i think of it much more fondly now. these echoey choral effects... woahw wowhhah this is... unreal lmao. ***
6. The Things I Say
short one. sounds sorta like a "round" in the way she structures these verses, the repetition. singing about drinking so cute lol man i dunno im just... what can i possibly say about this? why am i doing a live review at all? well i did for laideronnette which is still my favorite of all time. WOAH THESE GHOSTY EFFECTS, suddenly scaling up, what i thought was an interlude is in fact an extreme inter-song transition into the title track, o h m y g o d. REVERSE CHORDS? UDHExhegyxlwg ***
OH MAN. my anticipation here is. indescribable. palpable. "The diver is my love, and I am his"... i am basically paralyzed by this. seems like a fascination with the history of her lover is in a few of these tracks? oh man these piano chords. this is a whole world unto itself. an old rich vivid world that we can only see through intricate models at a museum. i cant... i can't process this... hahhahaa hahauhuehhsuhshahah jeez. "Did you know me at all?" what a difficult question.... ........ oh man... this is almost too much... i feel like i cannot catch up to it in any meaningful sense. ***
8. Same Old Man
another short one. wow her voice... it just got really raw... i love the harmonizing here... it's so rich and resonant, so full. "New York City won't see me again", ah. :( why? i love this low rumbling though. WOW this synth usage... it's like the quality of these sounds has finally sufficed that she wants to use them lol. actually it's probably some acoustic thing that i just don't know about. that was really impressive. ***
9. You Will Not Take My Heart Alive
this one feels like a slow burning emotional banger. something heavy incoming. etc. i love the electric guitar echo. and then JESUS WHAT, suddenly everything went ice-waterfall. oh damn dude this repetition of the title, this is just boom boom boom sorta shit dang. "Not angel or devil but leveling time", this feels... huh... i really like i'm hitting a wall of understanding "and it feels so good to be unable to go on" yknow that feeling? i love these really icicley chords at the top... again that endearing sort of "all the instruments have a turn" feeling. ****
10. A Pin-Light Bent
My life comes and goes?? what could it mean what could it mean. her singing about morality seems pretty cruel given that she is a seraph. all these respective locational themes... ahh... i can't even begin... yknow if we really are just a complex simulation projected from the firewall of a black hole in a universe with higher dimension then we're really just in an ontological free-for-all so this light-pinhole based understanding of spacetime is as good as any, tybjn. ahhh... nice. ***
11. Time, As A Symptom
more owls... like at the start... udh444eduedheudgdg what is even going on here? "the moment of your greatest joy sustains", and this lovely lovely piano... it remains... ahhhhhhh AHHHHH. "Time is just a symptom of love", DUDE LEVINAS! time is the ethical contract with the other! 10/10 ontology and subsequent ethics. GOOD JOB JOANNA. owah these vocals though, this is killing me. i can't wait to her this on the legit CD like actual flac instead of this crap job 320 encoding. OMG. the drums. OMG. THE JOY. OH MAN. MAN OH MAN. this outro is just bananas on top of bananas. the rhythm! the escalation! the joy! AAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAA "white star, white ship, my joy transmit", aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA ****
That was pretty fantastic.
Feels like maybe she started with another triple album and then just folded it in to one.
There is a LOT of stuff going on here. Her sounds are becoming more varied, and every aspect of them is almost painfully evocative. Like she'll bring in a drum kit or an acoustic guitar and it sounds so much like everything you've ever liked about those instruments that your mind is just ripped through a gauntlet of memories and associations as soon as you hear them. It is overwhelming. It is a good feeling.
The arrangements are so complex and restless that the central threads of the songs is focalized even more through her voice. There seems to be a major focus on large, dramatic transitions, that become even more powerful as the more varied instrumentation will get whole roster changes over the course of a song. Only her voice remains as the inner, almost secret, heart of the album.
This seems to fit thematically, too. Ys and Have One On Me took place after breakups and other distress, but afaik she's been pretty content and happy leading up to Divers. But there's still a worry that something will change, a worry that grows in strength relative to the contentment with the current situation. So there's more of an exploratory feeling to it. There isn't a bunch of emotions that she feels overwhelmed by and has to work through, it's more that she has to root out from the depths of her mind. And thus we get an album that functions a lot through things "stirring up" moments of perfect happiness.
We get a lot of stories about lovers being separated, about the place of a relationship in two people's private histories of love, about the permanence of memory... it all seems to be working around this question of "what can be done to preserve the perfection that we have reached?", like "what is the point of getting here if we're just going to leave again, if something is going to change?".
It shifts from a practical question with answers in history to an ontological question with answers in philosophy. Her ultimate conclusion - that time is just a symptom of love - seems so rooted in Levinas that it cannot be coincidence... she must have either read Time and the Other or I am projecting super hardcore.
I dunno, those are some rough thoughts atm. I will think more about this as I continually listen to this album for the next five years.