Joanna Newsom – Divers
Joanna Newsom’s last album, Have One On Me was a three-disc, 18-track, two-hour odyssey. Album number four is perhaps more modest in scale – just the 11 songs, thanks – but no less lofty in ambition. Subjects as boundless as world war (Waltz of the 101st Lightborne) and the death of a historic New York City mayor (Sapokanikan) are lustily embraced, with a deceptively simple ‘love song’ thread woven through. This dense lyricism is keenly matched with rich, luxuriant instrumentation and Divers perhaps reaches a zenith in Newsom’s arrangement skills (the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are featured players).
There’s light and shade, of course: softer, piano-led ballads like the gently sad The Things I Say offer a contrast to the more bombastic entries like album opener Anecdotes. But it’s in these more elaborate tracks, ebbing and flowing between decorum and opulence, that Newsom really shines. Clavichords, mellotrons, and marxophones are pitted alongside her trademark harp and elegant, dextrous voice; each song boasts tremendous subtlety, movement, grace and nuance. Witness the carefully devastating conglomeration of vocals, strings, horns, percussion, and birdsong on album closer Time, As A Symptom, and it’ll be hard not to conclude that this is surely one of the albums of the year. [John Nugent]