30/10/2010

Listen Cloze, Now: Joanna Newsom's "Have One On Me" (2010)


"...do her words really need to be broken down like formulae? I think not. Simply to escape into the world of Joanna and be incapsulated into it and applauding it is enough. And maybe not understanding completely is the more beautiful act of musical appreciation, lack of total understanding leaves the listener with a humbled nice sense of ignorant awe."

- Guardian-commenter


(Forgive me; I'm rarely satisfied by ignorant awe.)




1. "Give love a little shove and..."

It is commonly and truly noted that this woman's work is hard work. Well, Have One On Me is a map of the heart, and you shouldn't expect such things to offer themselves lightly. The album traces the several forms of love: divine or agape (tracks (3, 7, 14); filial (track 9, 14); courtly (track 2); obsessional (tracks 1, 5, 10); maternal (track 6! but touches in 1, 5, 11, 14); platonic (passionate friendship: track 8 and maybe 11); panicked (track 4); dependent (track 5, 10, 16); wilful (track 1, 16); of place (track 9); destructive (2, 8, 10, 15, 16?, 17?); forbidden (track 2); unrequited (track 18 above all, but 1, 7, 10, 15) and love of self (track 3, 4, 13). It exalts, despairs, casts about in the land.

Rock reviews miss the point in territory like this. There was a great deal written about it being a triple!! album!!!, which obscures the real way it's ambitious; this 123-minute thing requires patience because of its richness, not its length. The songs' length (6min average), her remarkable vocabulary and voice, and the unfamiliar instruments floating about all slow us down, but it's the alien allusion of it that leaves us out, first of all.

It ain't Renaissance music, but it sure is sacred. (American Secular Sacred). My mate James says it is "a book of an album. It's Middlemarch", and this is the case. Though, since it's episodic and woozy and dark, I'd call it Nabokov's Ada more. James also spits at people who emphasise the bits of her that appear Medieval - but the fact is, she is making historical music; it's drenched in dead music. But it's the blues; Ol' Opry cakewalks; cabaret; parlour-music; Appalachiana; and gospel, rather than the pre-Baroque. (Gershwin > Gibbons.) Given this marinade of early American popular music and William Faulkner, Newsom's stuff tastes lasting.

I don't listen to her for complexity or historical satisfaction, though. What I love about it are the Epiphanies - the many moments of perfect sound and sense that pepper her songs. (Elsewhere they are called "hooks", but fuck off.) There's so many here, I suppose because the damn songs are so long and get the time to climb all the way up.



2. Man vs Life



A type of love pointedly missing in the above rundown is empathic love. Where Ys burbled with anthropomorphisations, companion animals, and a general affinity with the universe, Have One on Me, while still full of nature, is much more about the Rancher (a lonesome, domineering social-product nestling in a hostile world). HOOM is sensual, snug, and macabre where Ys was abstract, epic, and pure.



"I hope Mother Nature has not overheard!
(Though, she doles out hurt like a puking bird.)
"


"Driven through with her own sword,
Summer died last night, alone.
"

- Autumn

"Wolf-spider, crouch in your funnel nest,
...have I had a hand in your loneliness?
"

- Go Long

"Black nose of the dog / As cold as a rifle "
- Ribbon Bows



With nature so terrible, is the implication that the only safe place is in the arms of someone who may or mayn't stay? The cover (click to zoom) is filled with dead things: a judgmental peacock, half-plucked; a stuffed deer wearing a feather headdress; a divan draped in leopardskin - and her, langorous and deathly in the centre. And her animal motif-characters are this time uniformly malign - even Bess the horse makes "glad neighing", at highwayman-Joanna's hanging.

This is significant because the animals are aspects of the human characters. Newsom deals with the coldnesses, stubbornnesses or malices of the male lead and female lead via animal symbols.



Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)




The best hope for a unified story arc comes if we pick out the farm couple, seen most clearly in track 5, "No Provenance". This easily ties into the Californian childhood arc, which is also the one intrigued by Lola Montez. My reading splits things into:


  • FARM COUPLE songs (tracks 1, 5, 17, and 18) most clearly, but the others fit pretty well.

  • ALLEGORIES (tracks 2, 3, 8, 11, 17). Aye; more allegorical than usual.


Who are 'the farm couple' then? She is a grown woman on earth variously known as "Lola"; a mad horse; Birch's mother; Dick Turpin; a Nevadan; Esme's adorer; "slow-heart"; Joanna Newsom. I'll call her J.

He is, variously: "King Ludwig I"; "dragon"; "Bess"; Bluebeard; a magpie and a bluejay; a wolf-spider; a "silly goose"; "long-life"; and various hinted-at male celebrities whom I'm not interested in gaping at. I'll call him B.

We've only clues. I say "Newsom" when I mean "the songwriter", and "J" for the protagonist - nothing more presumptuous (history is just organised gossip).



I suppose I should admit that I don't believe in any such thing as "overreading". Interpretations are made of the second-order features of works, and if you honestly see [x] in a thing, then [x] is there. Symbols don't take kindly to egoism. Where I am dogmatic in the following, remember that it doesn't really exclude alternatives.




****************************************************************************************



4. Disc 1
1. Easy (6:01)

Album makes its landing approach, voice borne down by violins.

Heavy with gospel tones - "there's a river made of light"; "you must not fear / speak my name and I appear" - and a properly obsessive love, but they're masked by the jaunty piano and the witty backing strings, drums, and winds.

Title's a shushing; think whispering to a jittery horse (your partner). She taunts and pleads for love, promises him all sorts. She's trying, desperately trying...to show that it will be easy. She feels "tested", he's "pained". Her man is compared unfavourably to a frog, who has stamina, goes courting all day.

I love the little Wittgenstein line at the end of the first verse; "we are blessed and sustained by what is not said.", but it doesn't bypass me that it's a terrible piece of self-delusion.


@0:00 - That voice, from space
@0:48 - Piano touches down, too.
@1:20 - two-part Epiphany: Strings add prim mischief;
@1:30 - drums enter

@2:09 - left alone again
@3:14 - lovely flute licks
@3:22 - Glory horns distract from terrifying telling B to "give your life."
@3:33 - back down
@4:47 - Reset; she calms her pleas.
@5:30 - Jaunty, lazy horns and killer strings, out.

The Bloody Mary reference is dark beyond its namesake, too: like some ghost, she only feels real when she has his attention - "I am barely here... speak my name and I appear."





2. HOOM (11:02)

Drug Jig. Stately burlesque.

Parts are sung in the voices of the life-large dancer/adventurer Lola Montez and of Ludwig I, a King of Bavaria. It cycles around, through flashbacks, getting more and more hallucinatory until /- she snaps back to clarity (returns to the opening). About her arrogance and her suffering, dancing on the thread of the music.

King Louis is daddy longlegs (a fly) and Lola thinks herself baby longlegs. Others ("Jesuits") see an immoral, gold-digging predator, dancing the tarantella before the King, a "shrieking six-legged millionaire".

Montez toured Nevada after her flirt with Euro nobility, and it's not hard to see Newsom dancing around parallels between herself and Lola - an "innovative female performer in the West". (Note that Newsom writes Lola not as the opportunist flirt that many accounts depict, but a wronged, heartbroke woman in a malign world). Despite Bavaria being the setting, it's Nevada, really...


@1:40 - Up suddenly, cheeky tambura line and a tarantella beat
@2:42 - that weird chord break again (jump in time?). Metonymy - she is her brassiere.
@3:14 - Pensive, sweet scheming.
@4:00 - There is nothing I adore apart from that whore's black heart.
@5:40 - Are you with me?
@6:10 - Epiphany! Will carry on; recorders at the wedding. Drums!
@6:40 - The descent. Have one...
@8:34 - Up. Modulates, recovers jauntiness
@9:05 - Up. Tarantella. (drums are the spiders, too.)
@9:48 - The choir are decapitated; we're slammed back into 0:01, as if Lola just woke up...

The most powerful reading is that, some time after Louis jilts her for political and selfish reasons, Lola tries to poison Louis (and maybe herself too). Throughout the last half of the song - where the humiliation and rejection plays out - she repeatedly encourages him to "have one on me", and it's an amazing idea that this is a sleight to murder someone. ("Mud in your eye" is both a toast and a "fuck you".) This reading only sticks if we also have someone else ("the blackguard") convicted for the crime and get beheaded for treason. In any case, the attempt fails:

"Heard the cup drop, thought, 'well that's why they keep him around'"

(i.e. the dead food taster has served his purpose. Stretching the metaphor, this could be a mutual friend harmed by the breakup.) If we take this gruesomeness to hold, what comes out? This is the titular theme - it should cover the whole album:



Booze = Love = Poison
(Each one highly desirable, sometimes)



From which we derive littler themes like "relationships as intoxication", "heartbreak as an inevitable hangover", and all the alcoholism, vice and gluttony of love, and the homeopathic idea that it takes a poison to cancel another'n. (see "Jackrabbits") Note also that she "dies" in tracks 2, 5, 8, 12 (and speaks to a phantom in 6; is in Eden/Hell in 3; and reacts to a death in 10)





3. '81 (3:51)

The most Ys-y. Of pre-birth (Newsom was born in 1982) and rebirth (forgiving, getting past bullshit, starting again). Could be the transformative power of an early relationship (or the wistful friendship after one).

@0:08 - "Dirt is all the same" - I know someone who'd see this as "emotions are universally uniform". (:
@0:25 - lovely scale picking
@2:32 - top of the harp's range sounds like a music-box, piercing, brittle.
@2:36 - "Even muddiest waters run" - we move on from most things, eventually.

"St George" and the "dragon" could be B and another of J's partners (Kingfisher?).



A nod to independence, for a change? -
"Farewell to loves that I known"
"I shall want for nothing more."

Content in oneself for once, though also
"I'm inviting everyone"





4. Good Intentions Paving Co. (7:01)

THAT pedal in the piano! Engine.

Tremendous fun - full of Sam Cooke, puns, energy, and WWII girlgroup harmony. This is the one that gets called "poppy", I suppose because reviewers were just glad to get something easier to listen to. "And I did not mean to shout 'Just drive! Just get us out, dead or alive!'


A road too long to mention
- Lord, it's something to see,
Laid down by the Good Intentions Paving Co.
"

@1:11 - just by adding a frigging tambourine, listen to beat change
@1:31 - banjo breaks in, piano drops out @1:47 - back,
@2:00 - Epiphany! Til the noise; and up.
@3:11 - bouzouki?
@3:28 - Down. Peace that only Hammond organ brings.
@5:30 - Up, up, up. Coda; neat little jam, trombone on out. Banjo comes back in, bringing his friend Hammond. Piano gets insubordinate, plonking chords.

Deciding to love. (Is love surrender? Fuck knows; to the sea!) Road to hell's westbound, and it's made of deciding to drive home together instead of fly. But now home is unfamiliar, and J's "heart cannot drive", she's dependent on getting B to do it. Agitation & uncertainty - but now she's locked in to the relationship (en route) but still unsure (gotten lost, gotten jumpy about the destination).

Wordplay:
  • "I said to ya 'honey, just open your heart' / when I've got trouble even opening a honey jar"
  • "I can see you're wearing your staying hat, darlin"
  • "Auld Lang / Syne, sealed, delivered I sang"
  • "You ranged real hot and cold... I am at home on that range"


Entering a relationship as "folding", giving up a round of cards? And: road metaphor, the two of them - "the course I keep"; "right here in the right lane". And "I'm sold". It's on.





5. No Provenance (6:25)


Title is "out of nowhere". But no providence either - as in, no guarantee about the future. Probably the most complex piece - 16 or 17 chords, and it modulates four times. Following the last track's surrender to love (as if the car goes over the cliff)...


"Allelu, allelu, I have died happy".

But there's trouble yet. They go for a walk; Rome collapses in their absence! (The farm, unguarded empire of their love...) He sees it coming.




@0:40 - Rapture - the peace of arms, arms.
@1:45 - "the Big Return"; an argument unsettled?
@2:26 - wistful oboe, haunting her.
@3:00 - oy, always with the "arms".
@4:04 - Modulates. The horse strikes, to a sweet, patronising trio.
@5:35 - "muzzle of a ghost", like Bloody Mary in Easy...
@5:59 - Commands him to lay her down...

Lying together in a field, they're set upon by an "etiolated", skittish little horse. (J: her doubt and discontentment.) It tries to escape, but the gate holds fast. Neither J nor her partner have much sympathy for the struggling animal (as usual, we resent our doubts). He accepts the horse's distress, just "nodding sadly". She wonders what he knows, what he's planned, his signed-and-sealed 'arrangement with Fate'. Ain't convinced. J asks to be led - she can't find her own way - back to the farm, to resume the certainty of his arms.

She calls him Johnny Appleseed, the folk hero - horse-kind - but a committed bachelor too.





6. Baby Birch (9:30)

Country hymnal to an unborn who won't be. (Birch twigs were the traditional material for building cribs.) Has, I think, only four chords. So different - a C&W lilt, accelerating vocals and a haze of electric guitar.
"How about them engine breaks?
And, if I should die before I wake,
will you keep an eye on Baby Birch?
Because I'd hate to see her
make the same mistakes
."
Baby Birch herself is best seen as a miscarried relationship. I adore the idea of child as embodiment of a relationship - though of course they're sometimes a memento dolori. J had assumed so much, that they would have time, that they'd last. And she's not quite mourning - she imagines meeting the grown-up Baby Birch, in another "path" (possible world).


@1:55 - "bulletproof cars" compared to the vulnerable vehicle of a (pregnant) body.
@3:21 - Harp vamp. Dignified acceleration.
@4:18 - Down. Back.
@5:55 - Vamp returns.
@6:22 - Handclaps make the stage light up.
@6:45 - Gets rowdy - Morgan adds voice, and +his drums, makes a torrent
@7:36 - Down, just harp. "Be at peace"
@8:25 - Lovely mandolin/recorder bridge -> theme -> out

"Dirty lake"... The goose might have beenan exception to HOOM's animals being unempathic - J calls the defensive, nesting mother "poor little cousin" - but then her offspring are dismissed as "dregs".

Ends on a violent nursery rhyme. There's some abortion-worthy images, but it doesn't cohere. This cooing mother makes her own furs; J skins a rabbit alive, which runs off "as they're liable to do". Her violence is desperate - trying to make it stop kicking, make it stay, make it hers. Rabbit is the baby is a relationship she had hoped would last and grow; instead, finally, she skins it and lets it run. An exorcism, instead ("be at peace and be gone").


Beginning the great rewrite, the great skin-shedding which getting out of love requires.




DISC 1 STATS
Key progression: Fmin -> Dmaj7 -> Dmin -> C -> Cmin (...) -> D
Band progression:
Chamber -> Old chamber -> Harp
-> Band -> Old chamber -> Harp (+ band outro)



****************************************************************************************



5. Disc 2


1. (7.) On A Good Day (1:48)

So slight a thing, so soon missed. This is short by any standard, but in a Newsom album it's not half of a tease. A tiny pure speck, following "Baby Birch" right on. J&B have decided to part - or, well, he's given up on Them - and the song is curiously accepting, noble (premature).

The key wordplay is "good day" - as in a clear day, elevated and seeing far ahead; but also as in an untroubled day. They only communicate properly "on a good day" now: once in a while...


@0:21 - "for. the. re. main. der" - where else do you hear this sweet plod but in hymns?
@1:02 - gets her crone voice on
@1:36 - Stunning strength: "leave me be so that we can stay true/To the path that you have chosen"







2. You and Me, Bess (7:12)

Frontier sure is lonely. Go fetch that horn quartet and them campfire backing singers, that'll be cheering. (Dick Turpin's horse, or Porgy's dame...Guthrie or Gershwin, kids?) An intense, but doomed friendship. J "steals" Bess, and they try to eke out life in a terrible world's terrible winter - waves dangling the sea's entrails; outlawed; hoarding scarce food. J is captured because of Bess.

There's a vague betrayal ("I believe you were not lying"), a closed trial, and a hanging, at which J's forgiveness is heartbreaking.


@0:00 - J ghosts the trumpet melody.
@3:00 - Epiphany! Duet, the beautiful moment of capture.
@4:30 - Sweet harp defiance on the gallows.
@5:08 - Heroic, perverse horns
@5:35 - Epiphany! Humble bravery.
@6:00 - La-la-la into the dark.

But the harp chords are insistent and positive throughout, J Turpin's shrugging, gallows optimism. J dramatizes the breakup, tries to absolve him; accepts the sentence anyhow.






3. (9.) In California (8:01)

Personal highlight: an ode to home. (More delusion, but what sweet and self-assured lies they are!) Home as sanctuary, running from the breakup. "Time", nostalgia, "sometimes", time, time. The tick-tock harp marks structure - the main (theme) section builds up in three runs - sometimes, sometimes, sometimes. Running metaphor of herself as an uprooted and difficult plant.

Can't shake him. J pretends to have everything just as she wants: 'home'. She's learning it properly for the first time, even. Tells him to leave her alone - but looks forward to him disobeying. She has "sown untidy furrows across her soul", been "pulling artlessly with fool commands" in moving on abruptly and categorically. It ain't working like that.

There are two reasons you ignore a thing: either it's not important or you wish it weren't.


@1:09 - Epiphany! "it feels like some kind of mistake"
@1:25 - tick-tock modulates to D-add4th ...
@1:42 - horn swell into...
@1:53 - Epiphany!...sudden mood change - "But there is another..."
@2:26 - theme introduced
@3:00 - Epiphany! "I have sown untidy furrows cross my soul"
@3:14 - "SoOmetimes" theme
@3:46 - tick-tock returns
@4:18 - develops! (piano, bass, and drum enter)
@4:49 - back to the theme. "Pick off my goldfish / From their sorry golden state"
@5:22 - Epiphany! An oil drum! strings enter us from behind
@5:45 - ...and collapse
@6:45 - strings launch the bird out the window, cawing weirdly
@7:30 - drum+vocal break
@7:47 - tension drops out; a little syncopated guitar
@ End - an Axl Rose vocal gliss(!)

Ends on the admission; "it has half ruined me to be hanging around here...I am native to it, but I'm overgrown." And where do you go when home isn't home anymore?






4. (10.) Jackrabbits (4:22)

The heartbreak really hatches - she crashes. She's almost whispering for much of this. The sweet manic hope of being taken back, being allowed to feel. Ain't no valley low enough.

"It can have no bounds, you know.
It can have no end...
...And it can change in shape or form,
But never change in size.
The water it runs deep, my darlin,
Where it don't run wide
."


@Fairly uniform, but picks up vigour at
@2:02 - Flourishes; declarations.
@2:50 - Resorts to folk medicine and the Bible. "You will be free" is never bad counsel.


"Telling you I can" becomes "tell me that I can" - she has gone over to B's door: is standing there, asking.



Echo from track 4's road: "like a rope gone slack".




5. (11.) Go Long (8:02)

"You were a prince...
Who will take care of you..?
There's a man who only will speak in code,
backing slowly, slowly down the road.
May he master everything that such men may know
about loving, and then letting go."

Ornate and sickly - the title and lyrics are sports metaphors; there's a Bluebeard reference and other grisly things. The song is a charm for a man, one she's oddly subservient to (pardoning his violences and self-isolation). Masculinity viewed from outside.
Much was made of the "kora vs harp duel" in this, but it is of course no such thing. There is a power struggle, but it's J&B against B. (Each has their own melody.) Peering into your partner, coping with and treating the pieces you can see.

"We both want the very same thing -
We are praying I am the one to save you
"


B's pet name here, wolf-spiders are solitary; the other pet names she gives him ("goose", "bluejay" and "magpie") are all species that mate for life.


@0:00 - Cloying feel...who wants to hear your bad dreams?..
@2:37 - Enter frantic, baroque kora part. (->@3:08) The Mekong runs through Vietnam. ...there's a horrible napalm image comes to me.
@3:08 - Nursing, talking "Grope your little nurse".
@4:07 - Bastard kora comes back.
@5:44 - Kora again dischords. Bluebeard's chamber; a room full of woman's teeth
@6:38 - Kora is hushed. A blessing, & more unsettling kora -> out.
There's only so close you can get. And with some - "mighty men" say - there's no piercing the veil.


"This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow,
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go."

-Emily Dickinson






6. Occident (5:31)

Minimal, solemn; song for dusk. Title means "the West" so, originally point of sunset: this is the end that "On A Good Day" sees coming at the start of the disc.
"something is moving, just out of frame
breaching slowly across the sea, one mast
- a flash, like the stinger of a bee -
to take you away, a swarming fleet is
gonna take you from me
"
What's left of her feelings, dealt with one way or t'other.


@Whole piece progresses simply, but:
@1:13 - "smoke me out of my hiding place" (...that is, out of 'California'. )
@2:41 - "Slow-heart, brace and aim" ['at me']; next comes the order to fire.
@4:00 - Drums blunder in, two-beat.
@4:09 - Epiphany! (Callout this"Long-life" fucker)
@4:32 - What passes for ostentation in track 12 (slow jazz)

Mixed message. One last chance..? "State your case".




DISC 2 STATS

Key progression: Bb -> C -> C (up to D) -> C -> ?? (B) -> Amin 
Band progression:
Harp -> Harp n horns -> rustic Chamber-> Harp -> Harp -> Piano



****************************************************************************************



6. Disc 3


1. (13.) Soft As Chalk (6:29)
"...love is both the beginning and the end of possibility: a way to escape home and be exiled from it; to welcome children or be burdened by fertility; to be entrusted with secrets or betrayed."
-Alyx Vesey
If anyone can dig up the unmixed vocal track for this, there's an incredible house remix lurking in here. No, really; as TV-themey and ragtimey as it seems, I'm confident that there's a monster club choon here. Which is not to say that it doesn't function as the speakeasy blues romp it is. Be a shame to lose Morgan's fantastic drum parts under sub-bass, too.


We get fun, & focus regained, after disc 2's predominating drunkness and pain. Still looking back, but empowered this time (feel the piano syncopating: matches track 4's giddy engine ostinato). J goes home again, and though there's still trouble ("sadness beyond anger and beyond fear") and boredom, this time it's hers.

@1:19 - Up. Epiphany! Lawlessness
@ - Life in nature; soporific, but life
@2:44 - 3:01 - Spry piano breakdown
@3:12 - Dramatic climb
@3:30 - Epiphany. The way she says "there" (theyoh) kills me, and no doubt the bear too.
@4:00 - Calms down, only so we can start piling on drums
@4:19 - "Give love a little shove and it becomes terror"
@4:47 - Grandstanding modulation. The best TV theme you'll find this side of the Sacramento.
@5:55 - Did Jerry Lee ever sing about airports? Nvm; it's covered.

An upbeat RnB romp against love. Regretting having put herself through all that. As if the options were:


1. Freedom, & Loneliness or 2. Stability, & Entrapment






2.(14.) Esme (7:55)

God, you can warm your hands on her adoration of this child. Vicarious, but there's nothing wrong with that. (Also an Ys-y one.)

She's stunned into a different place by seeing her friend's newborn. "Just what you have done." The child is a kite, a flying symbol for her. Her voice is tiny, the harp defers; J goes and hides in "branches" afterwards - a bird watching a birth and poring over its significance.



@1:55 - a shock of syncopation, pickup
@2:50 - "May kindness abound!" - drunk on the child, she commands the world, a prophet.
@3:03 - Epiphany! exquisite 6/8 arpeggios.
@3:30 - Back to syncop, getting wild, celebrating for everyone
@4:08 - "Each phantom limb lost" - past loves remain with her, like amputations do. But even they are less lonely, in this light.
@4:36 - KINDNESS, damnit.
@5:36 - "Clean as a breeze, bright as the day" - offensively nice.
@6:23 - Epiphany! Tiny soul-octave on "If you are blue"


Song self-refers "I search for words to set you at ease" - so it's a gift to Esme, a blessing against her future being blue. A proper epiphany (none of my glorifying a few seconds of pop music); your perspective on the world realigned and buoyed up by a new, tiny piece of information.







3. (15.) Autumn (8:01)

Crash, again, though! Not only alone, but lonesome. Christ, she can barely raise her head. At home, waiting and taking stock of a shit run of luck ("Snowbound by thoughts of him"). Home now populated by ghosts and unsympathetic weather. There's excellent use of the horns again here, as well as a restrained string section.


"I'll winter here, wait for a sign
To cast myself out, over the water,
riven like a wishbone.
"




Tearing herself in half, here - wanting to stay and also to go back to him. It's not clear which half of her is the lucky half, which the useless bit of the chicken's collar.


Compare the rain in "Esme" -
"It's a beautiful town, with the rain coming down"
- with, here:
"rain...lists down on the gossiping lawns, saying tsk, tsk, tsk."



@1:28 - optimism, like a break in the clouds
@3:31 - Really great mind-rhyme - "no control / over my heart, over my...mind."
@3:58 - UP! This time the optimism clears the bastard sky.
@4:58 - song suddenly bursts (jarring key change). We veer offroad.
@5:18 - bursts again
@5:39 - bursts again
@6:30 - "I loved them all, one by one" (as did Lola with her flies?)
@7:21 - Crashing, scale down. -> Wry flourish.




4. Ribbon Bows (6:10)

Far more pragmatic - "I could use someone like you around". Destitute again, though! Dissatisfying hedonism, one way out of Autumn's terrible doldrum. (Another one where the music is deceptively positive: listen cloze, now. Shares the high country vocal with "Baby Birch" and "Esme".)
J goes to a dog pound, picks up an "old hangdog" (Kingfisher? Long-life?) and makes do. Rolls in bad habits and lost-and-lorn revelry.


Compare "For Pete's sake, what you have told me, I cannot erase!"
with Easy's "Tell me your worries, I want to be told."



@1:28 - nice mandolin frill
@3:30 - Echoing strings, ride cymbal (oddly un-Newsom)
@4:00 - Massive shift, drama and nighttime mania
@4:20 - Bellowing at the dog about God.
@4:34 - Vaguely Celtic lick there


"Alone at last"


Self-referring at the end, like Esme, but here it's the decidedly malign - "could swear the night makes a motion to claim me, around that second verse..."


"Carrying on, whooping it up til the early morn
Lost and lorn among the madding revelry
Sure, I can pass / honey, I can pass
Particularly when I start / To tip my glass
"


(cf "Atlantis", by Auden)

"Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise."





5. Kingfisher (9:11)
Probably the messiest thing she's written.

Kingfisher/"Pro-heart" is perhaps the lover she took after breaking up with B - he's also "St George" from '81. She discusses the farm love with K, in his new arms..


Renaissance & Oriental frill. References Book of Revelation (end of a relationship is an end of the world).






6. Does Not Suffice (6:44)

Ending on reasonable mourning; quiet fury. A fixin'-to-go song. Few autopsies but those of relationships are conducted with this bitterness. ("like somethin caught on a barbed-wire fence") After the gaudy whirl of "Kingfisher", this plays us on out: a bare but warm reprise of many melodies and thoughts of the last seventeen.

Focusses on beautiful things going away, out of sight, into storage. She, who has let herself be these clothes and finery at some points in the album. Vocals are delicate, but not sulking. He is made to "deny the evidence" of something, probably simply his lack of commitment. She pictures him as Lady Macbeth, even: "scouring yourself red". And it's her that is leaving. She's had enough: it does not suffice to merely lie beside each other, as those who love each other do. Dignity and sadness and all that.



@1:00 - Crushing admission.
@1:42 - "sweet farewell" eee!
@3:10 - The piano is more than it seems; she times it for certain phrases, slows the spread of certain chords.
@5:00 - Only here, after she has finished her lyrics (her packing-up) are other instruments allowed in. Strings enter, take her gently by the shoulders and steer her away; the band slowly overwhelm it all. Once again she "la la las" out.
@5:39 - Strange staccato chords, drums and electric violin (almost Amerindian)
@6:08 - Explosion is allowed to reverberate, decay. Faltering pedal.

"In California" is the named reprise; "It Does Not" has its middle chords (D-G-B-G) and switches IC's theme to a stripped-down, heavily struck piano. They share melodies: "I have sown untidy furrows..." and 18's "laa la la la la la la la..." outro. But there's more returning than just that. Hear also:


+ "Baby Birch": same chords (D-G-B-G).

+ "You and Me, Bess": the album's other "la la la"s.
+ "No Provenance": "bales" and "burn" point back to it; the Farm Couple.
+ "Good Intentions":
+ And "Easy" above all - she is removing from the house "everything that could remind you of how easy I was not" - this last song is the final collapse of the promising from the first track. The best laid plan, awry.



Life goes on, but.






****************************************************************************************



7. VOICE

Your vulnerability is making me vulnerable, miss.

There was a collective, relieved wiping of the indie forehead when Newsom's voice was noted to have grown somewhat sane (closer to ordinary) after her vocal-cord nodules in 2009. This voice: that doesn't grandstand despite its constant foregrounding: that remains one of the more expressive instruments I've ever heard -and we applaud when it comes down! Ah well; she plays less innocent and girlish people on HOOM, in less need of squeaking device.

An overview: she has been a trembling, shrill, unhinged, cutesy, baffling, slurring, feminine battering ram of voice. There's scarcely a nonchalant or boring word across four albums' worth of music. Her vowels elongate until they snap into a thick crack of consonants.

She ranges, real hot and real cold - wide emotion, pitch, rhythm, as well as form, like:
- hushed confessions,
- recital, as if reading against her will
- weathered and toothless, aged Texas Gladden (esp. track 2)
- plodding homophony of hymns
- repetitive gumption of blues
- Kate Bush-banshee-psyche folk-Appalachian-choral-classical-nuts
- nebulous whirl of modern folk
- clout of stage Musicals
- jauntiness of early jazz
- the high winsomeness of country-and-western's women

- Her enuciation gets mesmerizing - it hypnotizes and makes me frantic. (What did she say? "Hydrosyphilitic?" It was drowned by the whooping...) She plays with a Southern accent in places, hushing and cawing. Better than this is the colloquial, literary/slang language it brings, defying time ("Satellite feeds" and the Grand Ole Opry). More though, she throws clusters of words, crimping and distending her syllables. ("Par-tick-kyoo-lar-ly")

- Her diction is bloody weird, too. In poetry, it's called caesura - a linebreak - but Newsom's are radical - breaks and lags come midphrase, midword, unpredictably and without much regard for trad emphasis.



("Down in the shallow ///// - gutter,")


("My pleasure-seeking ///// AMONG the tall pines")


("now you can see me fall ///// back here redoubled...")

Key, glorious lyrics ("it seems I have stolen a horse") get scudded right over and are easy missed.

- Her intervals (pitches and beats) are spiky - she uses the sudden octave-leaping of C20th avantgarde music (yeah, the ones designed to disturb us).

- There's a thing that you can do with an electric guitar (flick a string up and outwards with your thumb...), a "pinched harmonic" - a sudden, unearthly spike in pitch. A certain kind of metal-music is enamoured of them, but Newsom's is the only voice I've ever heard that tries for it. Far fewer in HOOM; see the opening note of "Only Skin" on Ys...

- I have a friend who uses "warble" as an insult, a catch-all for singing he dislikes. Others might call it warm-timbre vibrato. There's a word in opera, "melisma" (multiple notes per syllable). I can't remember its equivalent term in rhythm, but let's be clear: Newsom stretches English out - it takes a deal of reconstruction til the lyrics will be intelligible to you. Track 14, "Es-a-me, es-a-me" caused some confusion before it was officially titled. ("Sweet as a man?")

- Hers is an unforgiving tone; she won't wait for you to get used to one enunciation before she changes it completely. She's often bizarre, and obscures her own lyrics. She's worth it because she means it - and because she does mean it, the music lends itself to you, and lets you mean it.

- It's a bit of a stretch to describe Texas Gladden as a siren:







"I realized that [Texas Gladden's] voice was conventionally not beautiful and yet it was SO worthy of being listened to, and so affecting. Before that, I knew that I wanted to make music and I knew that I had things to sing about, and I knew that I could employ my voice, to whatever degree it was polished, in my songs and do something with it that I wanted to do with it. But something about hearing her sing was a comfort."


****************************************************************************************



8. DRUM

Neal Morgan's percussion work (writing and performing) is the only voice in the thing that can match hers (all the other instruments are in thrall). A couple of times he saves her from gaucheness - imagine; drums, adding sophistication! - like when she does her bird-swoops at the end of "In California".

He's got a particular jazz-born genius, but it's far more obvious live. [/hipster]. He makes the first disc ring out, then retreats from disc 2 in all except his star turn in "In California". His drumwork is the album's weather or stage design. They thunder (In California) and give the upbeat (Good Intentions) a tailwind. And, in the plaintive explosion that closes the album, they're the sound and fury that J is too undone to have.


9. Common calumnies

She's most commonly derided as childish... or an antiquarian. I reckon this contradiction divides neatly along which of the reviewers have seen her live. In person she's hyper-feminine, and on record, superhuman.


Criticism criticism:

"Indulgent": No, unrestrained. See also "Artistically immature", and so on.
"Pretentious": No, ambitious, maximal. One reviewer renamed it "The Audacity of Harp". Comes from indie's suspicion of grandeur, the amalgamation's inverse snobbery.
"Unstructured":
No, subtle. "Proggy", at worst.

"Understated" & "Direct": Also nonsense, can only come from listening to it right after Ys.
"Joni Mitchell / Kate Bush / Laura Nyro / Tori Amos" : Shame we've so few women experimenting, I suppose. If anyone: Ruth Crawford Seeger in Elizabeth Fraser's throat.
"Twee": No, romantic.
"Affected": Jesus christ no; fantasy; theatric!

It's not twee in the same way that the Dada movement and Alice in Wonderland aren't twee; they're too soaked in meaning for that - obscured and obtuse meaning, yes, but still intentionality.

- "I only really put her on when I have PMS"
 nbsp;- a friend

Consensus: having a vocabulary makes you ethereal, and if a voice is challenging, it is "affected".



****************************************************************************************



10. Suggested writing

There's no bibliography; it's up to you.


At the time I wrote this, I couldn't find any capital-c-criticism of Joanna Newsom, so I rolled up my sleeves. Since then I found this site, which does great feminist readings and signal-boosted me, which was nice.

Someone go write things on:

+ I've no taste for "key dates" and recording minutiae, but perhaps someone feels it's worth their scholarly love.

+ A more unified story, uniting the farm folks with the phantastical interludes.



+ Haven't seen any proper explanation of the title (or album as drinking music) bar my poisoning-&-betrayal idea, either.

+ The animal symbolisms.

+ There's a really tasty job going: making comparative look-sees between HOOM and MEM, HOOM and Ys.

+ Also a treatment of its femininity, across the lavish art design, sound, lyrics.

+ There certainly is serious work in looking at the album's instrumentation. A CUBIT OF KAVAL, A BUCKET OF SACKBUT and so on.

+ Some proper musicians to listen and ferret out the detail. The rhythms could have a piece on their own; her diction deserves understanding. Half of the songs are in Dmajor; are we to leap, and say these are of the same narrative, or what?
+ A proper detailed look at her voice, comparisons to classical singing, etc. Technical appraisal of technique.

+ Centralized, but unrigorous narrativing: http://www.songmeanings.net/artist/view/songs/137438962756/
+ Impressive, but stalled project to transcribe her songs:
http://jntp.110mb.com/
+ One of the few reviews that rose above mere evaluation:
http://thequietus.com/articles/03830-joanna-newsom-have-one-on-me-album-review
+ Above-average foruming:
http://milkymoon.fromamouth.com/
+ A good soul has made a direct reading of the chords...
http://www.atforumz.com/showthread.php?t=314190
+ And, of course, you should get up on your personal Have One On Me. This one's only on loan, though the Modes are free.


****************************************************************************************



MOTIFS

+ "WATERS"
(thing which both separates and connects two banks, or, fertility)


+ THE DANGERS OF FEMININITY
11. "...my ankles are bound in gauze, sickly dressage,"
16. "My mama may be ashamed of me with all of my finery..."
18. "I have gotten into some terrible trouble / beneath your blank and rinsing gaze."

+ GOD IS A BIT SHIT - (the indifference of Nature?)
2. "like a cornered rat"
10. "my faith makes me a dope"
13. "I glare and nod, like the character, God bearing down"
14. a feared mistress
16. using your dog as your theologian
16. "When I am alone, I take my god to task"
17. "To whose authority do you consign your soul?"

+ FLAME / BURNING (mostly, means that feel.)
+ GETTIN DRUNKEN (as in, being heartbroken)
+ TRAVEL & EXILE; EAST vs WEST
+ "KINDNESS" + "BLUE"



"[When recording Have One On Me] I had the feeling of being a little kid coming home from church. I was in my tight, scratchy sailor dress and my tight, scratchy patent-leather shoes. It was the feeling of tearing it all off and running around outside in my underwear."


20/10/2010

Jazz-Death


You can tell a lot about someone* from the historical year after which they stop listening to jazz.

  • Maybe you've an orderly mind ("What is this thing "improv", but anarchy?") in which case Satchmo goes and ruins jazz as early as 1925.

  • For loads of people it's 1945, where we noticed that, at some point in the Second World War, jazz ceased to be pop music and had donned the unwieldy headgear of art music. ("STOP DANCING AND LISTEN, DAMNIT." - signed, Gillespie, Parker, Monk) Jazz became agitation, spontaneity, the sound of your nerves.

  • Or there's 1952, when Chet Baker kills the piano (and thus yanks out the moderating seatbelt of standardised chord-accompaniments).

  • What might look like the grandest self-obsession of an egoistic time (1955-63) and place ("Mingus Ah Um"; "Mingus Dynasty"; "Charles Mingus Introduces Charles Mingus"; "Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus") is really a feedbacking loveletter to humanity, one rendered in tone poems, and his mighty erectus.


  • Coltrane gets himself his first of many skulls (his own abstract musicological category) with "Giant Steps". And "If you don't like Kind of Blue you don't like jazz." - the best excuse you're going to get. Or you might scramble for the lifeboats when Ornette gives a courtesy air-raid siren (all 1959).


  • Modes are tricky things, so if you're of a natural temperament, get out before Kind of Blue's alien beauties (or 1963, when 'Trane left his impression.)

  • Almost everyone bails right out when Albert Ayler gets his skronk on (1964) - we all say we want freedom, but balls do we. Freedom is apocalyptic.



  • 1972: If you're still here, it won't be this "fusion" nonsense that unseats you (jazz tamed by rhythm, and eventually beer).



  • 25/12/2005.


  • Nujazz, which allegedly has "made jazz fun again", is a retro movement hiding behind laptops, and so sets your Jazz-death at around 1940, not 1995.

  • I refuse to believe there's still many people who snub jazz for an exclusively classical taste (especially since this means they have to snub a great deal of "classical" music composed after 1924). But if you do find such a creature, then I suppose their Jazz-death might be 1890, when Brahms is supposed to have played ragtime.




Jazz is a hundred genres - Miles Davis alone is about seven. And (barring pathology [a tragedy]) you don't dislike them all.



(Uselessly Rough) Timeline

- Early Jazz (1900 - 20)
- Bigband and Swing (1920 - 40)
- Bebop (1941-60)
- Latin Jazz (1943 - perpétuo!!)
- Cool Jazz (1949 - 60)
- Hard Bop (1954 - 65)
- Post Bop (1960 - til fusion)
- Free Jazz (1960 - [concept of time dissolves])
- "Creative Jazz" (1968 - 1968)
- ""World"" (Coltrane - Toumani)
- Fusion (1969 - Prog)
- Acid Jazz (1988 - 2000)
- Postmodern Jazz (1980 - .)
- And..?



And if you need a more opinionated map, there's few obliviouser than Piero Scaruffi.


* As long as they listen at all (which closes pretty heavily the scope of this particular insight).

13/10/2010

To the Other's Side (Songs With Metaphysical Claims In)


The content of folk is fundamentally metaphysical. Our failure to recognize this is primarily due to our own abysmal ignorance of metaphysics and of its technical terms. . . . The true folklorist must be not so much a psychologist as a metaphysician, if he is to 'understand his material'.
- Ananda Coomaraswamy


On Spotify Here




1. Black and Gold - Sam Sparro
(the fear of reductionism)

Cause if you're not really here
Then the stars don't even matter -
Now I'm filled to the top with fear
But it's all just a bunch of matter
'Cause if you're not really here
Then I don't want to be either...




2. Do You Realise? - Flaming Lips
(unreality of time/mortality)

You realize the sun dunt go down/
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
.



3. Childlike Faith In Childhood's End - Van der Graaf Generator
(existentialism: song of a scientific human trying, trying...)

Frightened in the silence-
frightened, but thinking very hard,
let us make computations of the stars
.



4. Imagine - John Lennon
(sappy materialism)

above us only sky.



5. Everything Leonard Cohen ever wrote
(downbeat aesthete)



6. I Found A Reason - Velvets
(empiricism and also Hegelian geistery)

Oh-hoh I do believe you are what you perceive
What comes is better than what came before.




7. On A Good Day - Joanna Newsom
(Determinism/Structuralism)

Our nature does not change by will



8. Help - Beatles
(Panpsychism, if you believe this guy)



9. Talk To Strangers - Saul Williams
(social Nietzscheanism)

Talk to strangers when family fails
And friends lead you astray
When Buddha laughs and Jesus weeps
And it turns out God is gay
...But this ain't for the underground
This here is for the sun;
A seed a stranger gave to me
And planted on my tongue.
And when I look at you
I know I'm not the only one




10. Submarine Bells - The Chills
(also salvation via peers; the gaze of the Other)

I can watch in wonder as your gaze shifts past my shoulder
Just a glimpsed abyss that flashes at me.
I know deep-down-hidden in you, submarine bells chime
Gold and groaning, sunlit toining, submerged sound sublime
.



11. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
(Again: the void-defeating raft, friendship. Also perceptual doubt.)

We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
.



12. Only - Nine Inch Nails
(the opposite; solipsism, Dread)

None of this really matters anymore
Yes, I am alone, but then again I always was
...There is no you, there is only me
There is no fucking you, there is only me.
.




13. My Body Is A Cage - Arcade Fire
(stonecold dualism)

My body is a cage that keeps me
From dancing with the one I love -
But my mind holds the key
"



14. Help Me Make It - Sammy Smith
(moral nihilism)

I don't care what's right or wrong [and] I won't try to understand
Let the devil take tomorrow; tonight, I need a friend



15. Beautiful - Christina Aguilera

(aesthetic relativism)


14. Superstition - Stevie Wonder
(rationalism)


When you believe in things
That you don't understand,
Then you suffer




16. Anthem - Rush
(objectivism. Aye, the bad kind.)

Live for yourself, there's no one else
More worth living for
Begging hands and bleeding hearts will
Only cry out for more
.




17. "Is That All There Is?" - Peggy Lee
(to 'be' "philosophical" about things)

'And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire?"'
'And when I didn't die I said to myself, "Is that all there is to love?"'



18. Where Next, Columbus? - Crass
(Relativism, Ludditism; progress as arms race to the bottom)

Marx had an idea from the confusion of his head,
Jung had an idea from the confusion of his dream,
Sartre had an idea from the confusion of his brain,
Einstein had an idea from the confusion of his knowledge,
Jesus had an idea from the confusion of his soul
"



19. Come Clean - Hilary Duff
Cause perfect didn't feel so perfect
Trying to fit a square into a circle was my life, I defy
"
(logical possibility(!))




20. Substitute - The Who

The simple things you see are all complicated

(Underdetermination of theory by evidence.)



21. Otherside - Doors
(Huxleyan expansion bullshit; reality attached to via getting fucked)



*******************************************************************

COURTESY OF JAMES' BROV

The meaning of the world lies outside the world"
- Silver Jews, "People"
(Carnap's rejection of metaphysics.)

Everybody's talking but nobody's listening"
- Dizzee Rascal, "Do It"
(Heidegger's concept of 'idle talk'.)

I'm no longer human- i've become an investment"
- Wiley
(Marxian concept of capital fetishism.)


I'm barely scratching surfaces here.




SONGS WHICH SOUND LIKE THEY'RE GOING TO BE METAPHYSICAL


1. The Future's Not What It Used To Be

2. Only You (And Only You Alone).

3. Life's What You Make It

4. What I Must - Devo

5. Where Is My Mind - Pixies