Joanna Newsom | Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band

April 11, 2007 at 5:57 am (Joanna Newsom, mp3s, Ys)

Joanna Newsom

One of last years most confusing releases for me was Joanna Newsom’s Ys. Almost half a year after first hearing it, I’m still unable to resolve my mixed feelings, or come to any real conclusions abouts. Part of me can’t help but admire Newsom; she’s clearly a skilled harpist and vocalist, and she’s doing something genuinely different than any other musician currently performing. At the same time, however, I can’t help but think this style has been around for hundreds of years; how can one woman simply follow a set of musical guidelines that have been in place for centuries, and suddenly be hailed as great? It just seems so pretentious to me.


I was hoping that Newsom’s latest release, Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band EP would bring some sort of enlightenment to me. Unfortunately, it’s only confuses me more. Ys Street Band is composed of just three tracks; two Ys-style tracks(‘Colleen’, and an alternate version of ‘Cosmia’), and one folk song from her debut (‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’). While ‘Colleen’ and ‘Cosmia’ are perfectly enjoyable, I can’t help but feel the same way about these tracks as I did Ys. It’s ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowries’ that captures my attention. It’s a Sufjan-style folk song, and Joanna performs it beautifully. It’s so sweet, so simple, that it makes the other two tracks seem all that much more pretentious. Why can’t Newsom do more tracks like these?


Jonanna Newsom – Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowries.mp3

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  1. Richie said,

    She already did – try her whole debut album, The Milkeyed Mender (which contains the original version of Clam Crab Cockle Cowrie).. and which I prefer to Ys by some distance..

  2. that dude jeff said,

    Holy shit. Totally unrelated to Newsom, but welcome back SC.

  3. Lukas said,

    Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowries, to me is too slow and doesn’t capture my attention. Cosmia basically sounds the same as it did on Ys; there’s just no point for it. The song i really enjoy is Colleen. It sounds like a modern take of an old appalachian folk song.

    The harp is definatly an anchient classic; the way she makes it enjoyable to people who do not necessarily enjoy listening to classical music for pleasure is quite amazing.

  4. hello said,

    whoa. you are the first person I have come across to hold the exact same opinion regarding Joanna Newsom that I do. Everyone I know or have spoken to, and every blog that I come across either proclaims their love for her or completely hates her… I think she’s a good musician in the technical sense, but her affected voice is more irritating than unique and there is not actually a huge amount that is innovative about her style…

  5. Joanna Newsom - New Ep and opening for Bjork! « naturalismo said,

    […] to send chills up the back of my neck. To listen to her new rendition of the song head over to Shameless complacency, who has the song […]

  6. adam said,

    Thank you for posting this track. I find the description of your blog (“Nonsensical ramblings concerning music”) very accurate. Your writing imparts sympathy for a seemingly cognitively challenged author. Why bother?

  7. matt said,

    I’ve read a lot about Ys since it’s come out, kind of confused as well, mainly because I heard live versions of most of the songs with just her and the harp before the CD came out that I loved. When I heard the CD a lot of it seemed jarring to me and unformed unlike the recordings of Cosmia, Emily, Only Skin and Sawdust and Diamonds I’d been listening to. But she’s said consistantly in interiews about Ys that she spent a lot of time on it making things in a certain precise way, almost not letting it just flow creatively, because she said the events she was writing about were so important to her she felt she needed to write them and express them in a particular way. I don’t know if that was her sole motivation in choosing the orchastral arrangements she did, but it’s more understandable to me. All of her songs have underlying meanings that you can learn if you are thinknig about the song in the right way but they also have multiple meanings you can get even if you don’t know what she really ment, like the great Don Mclean’s American Pie. But the arrangements on the Ys CD I think are to more so show exact emotions, or try to, to limit the amount of interpritation of how she was feelings when recording them unlike her other CDs where she expresses the wonderfulness of songs that you can interpret to mean almost whatever you want them to. I think that might be why she made this EP and has been preforming the songs different live, having finished Ys the way she felt compelled to, now having some freedom to play with the songs. On the other hand, as far as if she’s being pretentious, I thought about that with Monkey and Bear, eve though I loved the melodies and music to it. But really, it’s because of her style and voice I think her truthfulness is questioned. If Devendra Bandhart or Led Zep or even Queen did any of her songs, I don’t think they’d be thought of as pretentious, because the songs themselves have such deeper meanings behind them, just presented in a creative way, instead of straight to the point through everyday terms. But again, I don’t know if that’s what she means to do, it seems that way based on the songs themselves and what she conveys in interviews. once heard her say in respnse to the meaning of one of her songs (paraphrasing) “if I can just tell you what a song is about in such as simple way then what’s the point of writing a song about it?”

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