Since making her debut with 2004's Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom has truly become indie rock's crown princess. Her fringed parchment folk evokes the spirit of a young Kate Bush but also captures the childlike mystery of CocoRosie, and her exquisite lyrics read like Renaissance literature, or at least the daydreams of a graduate student. Self-indulgent? A tad bit twee? Yeah, probably. But Newsom's second offering, Ys (pronounced "Eees"), will be a definite career standout. Recorded entirely in analog, with legendary arranger Van Dyke Parks and the golden touches of engineers Steve Albini and Jim O'Rourke along for the ride, it balances simplistic beauty with lyrical and musical visions of a world outside of time. From the soft orchestra treads of "Emily" and the scenic pop in "Monkey & Bear" to the tender heart at the center of "Only Skin" (featuring vocal harmonies by Newsom's love, Bill Callahan of Smog), Ys doesn't ever breathe quietly. In fact, it's the quaver between Newsom's quirky girlish cries and her tinkering on her harp (check "Sawdust & Diamonds") that grabs the ear and carries the album's evocative storylines. Newsom really went for something grand on Ys, and won. With such grace, she outshines everyone.
MacKenzie Wilson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.