Music Review: Joanna Newsom's "'81"

2/08/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Beth Hughes

Joanna Newsom, the high-pitched-Queen-of-Fairies folkie, has returned with her newest track, "’81," off her album, "Have One On Me," which is due February 23, 2010.

Newsom, who is best known for her (dare-I-say) shrill singing voice and mystical harp-playing skills, gained notoriety in 2004 with the epic “Milk-Eyed Mender.” Since then, she has secured the reputation of being the kind of performer you either love (“She’s different, and eccentric!”) or, hate (“She sounds like a cat in heat!”).

Whatever your predispositions to Newsom, I will suggest that you put them aside--if only for these four minutes--and listen to the song below, as it is work of art and builds much anticipation for her new album.

This stripped down tune will send a chill up your spine with the sheer amount of emotion in Newsom’s voice. You can almost see her in a cold, empty, gray room armed only with her harp, a pen and her raw feelings that poured right out of her and into this track.

Newsom, as always, is incomparable to anyone on the current manufactured music scene (except for maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks, if you ask the haters) and for good reason. Her scholarly training in creative writing has paid off well. The lyrics in this tune drip with religious undertones. Everything from the oh-so-humble adobe of Adam and Eve (Meet me in the garden/ of Eden/ bring a friend/ we are going to have ourselves a time) to a St. George and the Dragon reference (a fable in which the outcome is the city’s convert from paganism to Christianity).

The calming melodies of the harp mesh beautifully with her smooth harmony. This song is perfect to listen to in bed, just before falling asleep. It will melt away all of your modern-day troubles and enter you into a medieval land.

“’81” is capable of bringing the listener far from everything they thought they knew about modern-day music. This track shows that even though contemporary musicians can put an entire orchestra in their song, less truly is more. Newsom’s haunting voice and striking harp are the only ingredients needed to create this astonishing song.

But these visions of Joanna are different from her earlier releases (her unforgettable debut, "Milk-Eyed Mender," from 2004 and follow-up, "Ys," from 2006).  Now, she is more mature and solemn, and it is a safe bet that there will be no “Peach, Plum, Pear” type of songs on the new album. This track, with its many references to growing and changing, may symbolize Newsom’s growth to a more advanced and respected artist. While it may be different than what you’re used to listening to, it’s absolutely worth a listen.

Listen to "'81" below. What are your thoughts?

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  1. Anonymous said...

    An inspiring affirmation of the indestructible innocence that ever remains unified, eternal and spotless behind every passing moment and year- within every one of us no matter how muddy we are or how badly we've embarassed ourselves.