our score: 5 out of 5
When I first heard about Ys, I was pretty sure I was going to hate it, despite (or maybe because of ) the rapturous Internet word of mouth on Pitchfork et al and music bloggers falling over themselves to sing its praises as album of the year material. I had real problems with Milk-Eyed Mender, Newsom's 2004 debut, or more specifically the cloying layers of whimsy that stifle the album and had me reaching for eject after a few tracks. And I tried to like it, I really did, but there's a limit to how much singing like a demented five-year old that a body can take, and Milk-Eyed Mender goes way beyond it.
So then, Ys. It's only got five songs, the longest of which is over 15 minutes. It's named after a mythical French underwater city. It's maybe the best album of the year, and certainly the most unique. In part, this is down to the epic, string-drenched arrangements and gliding harp, polished and produced within an inch of their lives by sometime Sonic Youth member Jim O'Rourke, which ensures that Ys sounds like nothing else released this or any other year. And yes, partly it's down to Newsom's Marmite voice, which has been toned down considerably since her previous outing, but is still likely to prove a sticking point for some. But mainly it's the sense of directness that makes Ys unique.
There's a sudden stark honesty at work in Newsom's lyrics that catches you entirely by surprise and grabs you tight.
"Though my wrists and my waist seemed so easy to break
Still, my dear, I would have walked you to the very edge of the water
And they will recognise all the lines of your face
In the face of the daughter of the daughter of my daughter"
It's hard to describe Ys without making it sound "difficult", but nothing could be further from the truth. It's an incredibly easy listen, especially on cold winter nights when nothing could be more inviting than to lose yourself in the world that Joanna Newsom has created