Hearing Joanna Newsom the first time in 2004 was like tasting the nectar of the wildest mountain flower. Her elfin voice woven into Bach-tight indie rock songs rendered on harp and harpsichord made sense in the most peculiar way. Some hated it immediately, others found their special purpose in it, but no one who took it in was indifferent to its flavor.
Newsom’s music begs descriptions that mimic her sing-song density. She is hermetic, hermeneutic and herself. Hermetic in that her careful strategies are like that of a cloistered alchemist, applying folk magic through curious arrays of instruments in order to manifest gold. Hermeneutic because it makes you think about how you think about it. It is pretty music, you might muse, but it sucks you into an internal debate about prettiness with each little crone rasp buried in her butterfly twitter. Her 2006 album Ys is for me a brilliant case study in counter-intuitive beauty; the second you get your arms around a song, it becomes a snake and wriggles off to the floor.
Her new triple-album Have One on Me is her tightest affair yet. It’s like microphones were carefully set up around her sparkling synapses and her biorhythms channeled to the strings of her harp.