(How embarrassing that my headline post for going on three months was about The Last Kiss. Rectifying that.)
Ys, the latest album from Joanna Newsom, a folky harpist/songwriter with a warbling voice and a Nabokov penchant, is really quite amazing. I lack the musical vocabulary to describe it sufficiently, but imagine medieval ballads refracted through Appalachia sung by a cross between Bjork and Dylan animated by a fascination with language play. A few lines:
Peonies nod in the breeze,
and while they wetly bow
with hydrocephalitic listlessness,
ants mop up their brow.
This bit and the next few stanzas ("motherlessness") remind me of the fruitful (and mimetic) awkwardness of Thomas Hardy, and the ways in which Newsom weaves words on and off beat heightens the connection, at least to my mind. (Comparisons to other authors might be more productive, but I haven't seen anyone else mention Hardy.) Newsom's elevated language is grounded in both arresting, concrete images (such as the one above) and emotionally affecting moments (not a moment of irony, as far as I can tell). The album is five songs and fifty-five minutes long, and, even though I've been known to enjoy difficulty for its own sake, I think I'm right in saying that it pays off extended attention.
Why don't you just go buy it, and I'll stop jabbering?
(Many thanks to Zach, whose enthusiasm (he intends to propose to Newsom, I gather) initially lead me to good ol' Joanna.)