Friday, April 16, 2010

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

Those familiar with Joanna Newsom may know her through her 2006 album Ys, one of the most musically dense albums recorded in recent times. The average track length was over 10 minutes, with Joanna singing all through them with lyrics that take an awful lot of analysing to have any idea what she's going on about. This was all topped off by orchestra arrangements by no less than Van Dyke Parks, creator of one of the biggest critically appraised but commercially unsuccessful albums in history, Song Cycle. Upon hearing that her follow-up would be not a double, but a triple album, you may be forgiven in thinking that Joanna Newsom has finally taken her pretensions too far, releasing some sprawling epic containing 20 minute songs with lyrical word counts in the thousands. However, if we ignore the length for now, Have One On Me contains some of Joanna's most accessible work and is definitely a worthy addition to your collection.

For those who aren't too familiar with Joanna Newsom, let me back-pedal a little and introduce her a little more thoroughly. Joanna Newsom is a harpist who writes music what I would describe as somewhere between indie folk and baroque pop. The harp is the main instrument in her albums (she does occasionally switch to piano), with an accompanying band or orchestra usually in backing. On paper that sounds pretty simple, but what takes it to, for lack of better term, the next level is Joanna's vocals. Some may find her voice a little weird sounding at first (I never had any issues with it), but she's a fantastic singer and, more importantly, she's got the lyrical prowess to back it up, writing some of the strangest but, indeed, most fascinating lyrics seen in modern music. That said, don't feel that you have to be sitting there with a lyric sheet while listening to get the most out of this album; it may help a little, but I was able to get great enjoyment out of Have One On Me only understanding what she was barking on about some of the time. What I can tell you about Have One On Me lyrically is that it's for the most part about love, and how easy or hard it can be to fall in and out of this strange phenomena. For more details, go listen to the album, but that's all that needs to be said in this context.

As I said earlier, Have One On Me is a triple album, but the total running time is only about 2 hours, so it's still shorter than Swans' Soundtracks for the Blind (also a great album) for example. Each disc has it's own sort of style, but the deviations are only small so as not to interrupt the general flow of the album. I would say that disc 1 is my favourite, containing gorgeous songs such as Good Intentions Paving Company and the title track Have On On Me (very much a contender for song of the year in my books), but discs 2 and 3 have some fantastic songs as well. One would probably expect an album of this length to contain a fair chunk of filler and to an extent I can agree, but I'd say there's enough variety between songs to keep people interested. Also, I get the feeling that different people are going to have different favourites, so keeping it all in was probably for the best.

To summarise, Have One On Me, despite its length, is an excellent starting point to quite easily one of the best singer-songwriters of the last 5-10 years. That being said, don't expect to like it straight away, it takes a good few run-throughs before it really starts to click, but the pay-off is definitely worth the investment. Have One On Me currently stands as my favourite from 2010, a pretty good feat considering how good the new Alcest album is, and, despite albums from Kayo Dot and The Ocean coming out soon, is going to be very hard to top. Check it out if you're a fan of indie or folk, and even if you're not (I wouldn't call myself a huge fan of the genre), it may still surprise you.

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