Album: Joanna Newsom <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Tiptoeing along the line joining Kate Bush to Björk, harp-wielding folkstrel Joanna Newsom leaves one in no doubt of her oddball credentials on Ys, five story-song fables of between seven and 17 minutes apiece on which her florid harp stylings and peculiar ickle-girly vocals are pushed further from the mainstream by Van Dyke Parks' equally idiosyncratic string arrangements. Rarely, if ever, has an artist so assiduously cultivated cult status, from the antique vocabulary of terms like "cleft" and "murthering", to the serpentine courses taken by pieces such as the inter-species love song "Monkey & Bear" and the ghostly, nautical "Sawdust & Diamonds", on which she brandishes a sense of the dark power of the ocean. "Only Skin" is the longest and most involved song, a pantheistic piece in which opposites - dream and wakefulness, earth and water, animate and inanimate, day and night - shade into each other as Newsom relates the epiphanic experience of rescuing an injured bird, taking it up a mountain to recuperate, and watching it soar off again.

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Only Skin', 'Monkey & Bear', 'Sawdust & Diamonds'