Divers as its mirky mysterious album art sleeve suggests pulls the listener into its unique universe revealing more and more with each and every listen. Its cloudy depths when investigated and digested reward richly and deeply displaying kaleidoscopic colours of warmth, meticulous attention to detail, and otherworldly qualities of outrageous charm.
The opening call of Anecdotes welcomes ears to a musical pleasure dome painted with birdsong as it waltzes down a harp laden path. Lush layered production blend all instrumentation and vocals with sublime skill, it is the beginning to a tale of wonderment.
Cryptic lyrics suggest Greenwich Village casting back centuries in Sapokanikan. Time as a theme enters the album as carefully crafted concepts emerge. The song rises to a powerful crescendo as intrigue increases. Sonic evolving soundscapes chased down by the clock.
Leaving The City with its Zelda Ocarina Of Time and Highland processional feel offers entwining rapture and echoes of sadness like the branches of the dying Deku Tree. Piano and strings and thudding yet un-intrusive drums fill out the sound within as the vocals shimmer warmly coaxing one along. “The longer you live, the higher the rent”. Lyrics that stand alone as poetry. Music which more than matches the depth of the written word.
Largely Folk maybe but Joanna Newsom is an artist that defies pigeon holes and genres to an extent that she practically forges her own genre and that goes beyond music with a recent foray into movies. Let’s hope she maintains the day job. Goose Eggs eases into Americana and magical music box sounds. The strings and twang cannot hide precision so considered that Math Rock is suggested too as it coo-es and right angles about. Again the feel of transcending centuries is subtly suggested, backwards and forwards the album travels, hold-on tight.
Waltz Of The 101St Lightbourne suggests war themes, fear of inevitable loss and death. These downbeat images are accompanied with strangely uplifting Folky Blues and yet again time travel is suggested in vibe. A song which time itself will reveal more about. It has a touch of The Wicker Man in delivery and is more accessible than previous Newsom albums initially at least. Alternative yet traditional with a real dark underbelly.
An album that feels like you have been dealt an incredible hand of cards that you are not fully sure how to play yet unfolds further and The Things I Say with its haunting back loops and effects adds a light and welcome new layer.
Now its time to go through the round window into arguably the albums centrepiece and namesake Divers. Deeply immersive – suggesting inevitable loss of all close to the power of time – as themes merge more clearly now. The deeper you swim the more disorientating yet more beautiful it gets – more than the bends. Beyond themes of water, birds giving up flight and plunging into a submissive dive – free falling embrace. Forever Autumn. A surrender to something you cannot fight. A subtly staggering song.
Thematically fitting next is a cover of the traditional Same Old Man. Whereas the early 70’s version by Karen Dalton echoes a crisp Folky Led Zeppelin (and is worth a listen too) the production and delivery here feels right after the deep preceding track, like coming up for air. You Will Not Take My Heart Alive leads with harp and strings. In ways it’s a song that could sit on the three previous albums just as easily as it does here.
Joanna Newsom is somewhat of an underground superstar. So talented that many musicians could actually be inspired to just give up after hearing craftsmanship of this level. Weirdly she is rarely discussed in Classical terms yet she is not a crossover mainstream star either. A Pin-Light Bent could be, if a marketing arm at Drag City Records went with it, a point of real crossover. It is her most accessible song to date and in an ideal world a Number 1 singe in waiting. The harp intro lulls into a sombre flow, lyrics looking back over a life yet it is so uplifting and pure. The harp suggests time with its near ticking effect. It’s the strongest song on what is surely the album of the year.
Concluding the album Time, As A Symptom builds from a quiet piano led beginning to a rousing mantra. Birdsong effects fly through the track as the album seemingly loops right back to where it starts in an attempt to defeat time taking way what is cherished. The plug is pulled but the tap is left on. The concept will resonate differently for every listener. Cinematically it pulls you to listen again. It feels like more than music somehow. Layers to uncover. Mysterious, endearing and mesmerising. Dive in this is life affirming material…