Monday, July 31

Judging by the Cover: Joanna Newsom

"The Milk-Eyed Mender"
Drag City; 2004

Perhaps my love for female folk singers is due to my own constant attempts to be one myself. At any rate, it was certainly the reason I was drawn to the cover of Joanna Newsom’s album, “The Milk-Eyed Mender”. It is definitely very folky-looking, and she is very obviously female. She is not, however, what I expected.

Remember the show “Rugrats”? Remember the girl twin, Lil? Joanna Newsom sounds just like Lil. Imagine Lil singing nineteenth-century poetry and playing the harp and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this album sounds like. I laughed when I first heard her voice, but considering my love for so many male singers with even more comical voices, I decided I’d be a hypocrite not to give her a chance.

“The Milk-Eyed Mender may” come across as abrasive at first if you’re only listening to the vocals. However, if you make it through the first song and a half, you’ll actually find yourself starting to enjoy it. Each song is a soothing, simple composition, and Newsom’s voice starts to become less annoyingly childish, and more endearingly childish. Only one track features more than a single instrument instrument, whether it’s harp, guitar, piano, or even harpsicord.

Joanna Newsom’s greatest strength is in her lyricism. Unfortunately, it’s hard to appreciate what she’s saying unless the words are in front of you, and even then she’s incredibly cryptic. Lyrics like, “We sailed away on a winter's day / with fate as malleable as clay / but ships are fallible, I say / and the nautical, like all things, fades.” are breathtaking, but it’s hard to truly grasp their meaning in relationship to the rest of the song. Reading her lyrics is like experiencing them the way they could be better appreciated –as written verse. There are a few standout lines that hit hard, like “The gathering floozies / afford to be choosy…” but it’s hard to tell if the way I’m interpreting them is the way she intended them to be heard. Then again, maybe that’s her intent.

My favorite track on the album is “Sadie”: “Sadie, white coat, carry me home / Bury this bone, take this pinecone / Bury this bone to gnaw on it later/ gnaw on the telephone / 'Till then, we pray and suspend the notion that these lives do never end.” An ode to Newsom’s dog, it’s young and naïve in its subject matter, but incredibly thoughtful in its approach and analysis. The music is both melancholy and sweet, kind of like flying your kite alone on a cold day.

“The Milk-Eyed Mender” is a unique listen. Joanna Newsom is not the best singer-songwriter I’ve ever come across, and I certainly couldn’t handle listening to her all the time. Newsom’s music is the quiet, awkward kid that you have a crush on anyway. “The Milk-Eyed Mender” is pretty in it’s own way, and I’m glad I decided to give it the chance it deserves.

Joanna Newsom - Sadie
Joanna Newsom - Peach, Plum, Pear
Joanna Newsom - Bridges & Balloons

- Stacey Capoot -

Previously on "Judging by the Cover": Of Montreal

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