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.
Purchase Mlik-Eyed Mender here. Without a doubt this will be on Stereogum’s Top 10 Albums of 2004.
Joanna has only got two US shows lined up until February. Get your tix to this Drag City XMas Spectacular!
Also, keep an eye out for the new Venus zine with Joanna on the cover. Inside Miss Modernage interviews her Norwegian crush Sondre Lerche.