Everyone <3 Joanna Newsom

One of the most unlikely stars of this “avant-folk” or “anti-folk” or whatever-you-wanna-call-it movement (Devendra, Panda, Sufjan, et al) is beautiful Bay Area gnome Joanna Newsom. Joanna (not really a gnome) has played keys with The Pleased; now she’s steadily winning over indie rockers with wintry ballads informed by Appalachian folk music. She performs them solo on what is traditionally a schmaltzy instrument: the Celtic harp. Joanna’s untrained voice and strangled delivery, however, make Mlik-Eyed Mender one of the more polarizing buzz albums of the year. I put Mlik-Eyed on at Thanksgiving dinner and my sister was NOT feeling it. Maybe it’s a headphones album. The music is so beautiful, though, and the lyrics are clever. Please give it a chance. Here’s what Modest Mouse says of her in the new Filter

ISAAC BROCK: That Joanna Newsom album is amazing. There’s something about [her] music — it’s honest without trying to be folk, but it is. And somehow it’s more contemporary because it’s not trying to be modern. I don’t know if heartstrings are real, but if they are, they’re damn good at jerking on them.
ERIC JUDY: I like the Joanna Newsom album so much it feels like it should be the only one I talk about. I just got it a week ago and I listen to it all the time. Her voice is definitely out there — I think a lot of people might find it kinda harsh or not like it, but I do. It’s just really, really pretty.

You may also remember Dave Eggers devoting his Spin column to her a while back. He fantasized about her being a homely nut — “she’s painfully thin, and wears cracked glasses; she can?t get them fixed, and why? Because she spends all day singing like a crazy person, that’s why!” — because he was sick of quirkiness being accepted in female singers only if they’re beautiful (“wouldn?t it be nice if a woman could become popular with a face that could melt cheese?”). Sorry Dave.

I originally bought this album on vinyl, which meant I never listened to it and ultimately GAVE IT to the managing editor at work. It wasn’t until I finally got it on the iPod few months ago that it became an almost daily listen (and now I want my vinyl back, Jim). Here’s a bit from an interview Joanna did with Free Williamsburg last year:

FREE WILLIAMSBURG: Do you download music a lot?
JOANNA: I would if I knew how. At this point, I don’t mind if people download my music because that means that there’s a person who wants to listen. I give away CDs at shows if someone wants a CD but doesn’t have any money. I wouldn’t want to do that forever. I would happy for someone to download my music.

Joanna Newsom – “The Book Of Right On”
Joanna Newsom – “Peach, Plum, Pear”
Joanna Newsom – “What We Have Known” (non-album track)

Purchase Mlik-Eyed Mender here. Without a doubt this will be on Stereogum’s Top 10 Albums of 2004.

Official Site: Walnutwhales.com
Video: The Sprout And The Bean (Quicktime)

Joanna has only got two US shows lined up until February. Get your tix to this Drag City XMas Spectacular!

  • Sat 12/18 Bowery Ballroom, NYC w/ (Smog) & Weird War
  • Sun 12/19 Bowery Ballroom, NYC w/ (Smog) & Weird War

    Also, keep an eye out for the new Venus zine with Joanna on the cover. Inside Miss Modernage interviews her Norwegian crush Sondre Lerche.

    UPDATE: Brooklyn Vegan directs us to some sweet Newsom covers…
    Final Fantasy – “Peach, Plum, Pear”
    The Decemberists – “Bridges And Balloons”