During “Sawdust and Diamonds,” the third track on Joanna Newsom’s “Ys,” I had one of those euphoric moments when music shakes you and makes you listen to it, completely and utterly captivating you.
The pixie-voiced harpist and pianist from Nevada City is alone with her harp and her words on “Sawdust” for almost 10 minutes. Like the other four pieces of “Ys” – pronounced “ees,” named after a mythical city in French lore built below sea level – Newsom completely ignores verse-chorus-verse structure and does whatever she wants. As she’s wont to do, “Sawdust” is elegant and lugubrious all at once.
The barnburner is “Only Skin,” at almost 17 minutes, which bears the influence of collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Parks delivers strings to supplement Newsom’s lush, entrancing arrangements.
In interviews around the time of the release of ”Ys,” Newsom said the record was shaped by four events in her life, with “Only Skin” attempting to find their connections.
In addition to the constellation of emotion Newsom spins musically on “Ys” are her lyrics, which would stand alone without the weight of the album.
“Sawdust and Diamonds” alone makes “Ys” worth checking out, but the rest is essential, too.
Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.