Music Review: Divers by Joanna Newsom (2015)

Release: 23 October 2015
Release: 23 October 2015

I have to admit that I find Joanna Newsom‘s voice annoying, at least I did on my first few listens. With each continued listen I find her voice growing on me more and more. Her style and song writing are endearing and unique. I still don’t love her voice but I find myself more accepting. With the right mood I might argue that I love her voice, but when the mood passes I’m sure I will find it grating once again. If you are familiar with Joanna Newsom you are likely to understand where I’m coming from. Her voice is definitely a grower. It seems to fit so perfectly with her baroque, chamber pop, & folk infused instrumentals. All of this comes together into something incredibly unique, memorable and quite lovable.

Most of my experience with Joanna Newsom comes from this new release, Divers. I’ve never really given her previous albums the focus they deserve. A few dabbles here and there, enough for me to know I don’t like her voice, was all I’ve ever given her. Still I frequently read online how amazing she is. Finally, I broke down and gave this new album a few thorough listens. At first, I felt the same as usual. With each subsequent listen I found more and more to like. It is a great cohesive album the presents a lot to love. Each listen presents something new and memorable. I’m sure this is an album I’ll be coming back to periodically, but only when the moods strikes. I think this is the album only real flaw, is that it isn’t terribly accessible. Her style is so focused and specific that it requires a similarly specific mood for the appreciation it deserves. I hope I’m wrong and that it’ll continue to grow in my appreciation. I think that at this rate that might happen, and my requirement for a specific mood will go out the window.

Notable Tracks:

“Sapokanikan” – This track first attracted me with its Ozymandias references. Though I didn’t care for it at first I kept coming back due to the subject matter and soon I was hooked. Most of her songs I really like are the darker and more atmospheric, but “Sapokanikan” is certainly more cheerful in sound. Of her lighter and more cheerful tracks I think this is the best the album has to offer.

“Leaving The City” – This track is a nice moody sandwich between the cheerful white bread filling of “Sapokanikan” and “Goose Eggs”. The harp stands out a lot on this track giving it an old English folk feel. Instrumentally is where this track shines. The vocals are still great, though they takes some time to get going. Together this track works surprisingly well building and slowing in an extremely satisfying manner.

“Divers” – The title track of Divers doesn’t feel particularly representative of the album. It is one of the darkest tracks on the album, but I find it the most beautiful. Newsom creates a heavy atmosphere that I find extremely peaceful. It evokes the image of diving in a dark sea quite well, I can imagine quite clearly. As it stands, I would argue this track is the highlight of the album.

“Time, As A Symptom” – With the last three tracks, Divers finishes strongly. “Time, As A Symptom” feels like a perfect close. It features many sounds of nature that evokes the folk aesthetic really well. It was difficult to choose which of the last three tracks was the best, but in the end I felt this close deserved more note than the others. It creates a nice middle road feel between the more cheerful pop tracks and the darker atmospheric tracks.

After the first two listens I fully planned to give the album three stars out of five. I can’t help it. Her voice, her instrumentation, and her style have wheedled there way into my heart. I won’t give it five stars due to its requirements of a fairly specific mood. Still, I think I get it. I get where all the Joanna Newsom love comes from. I think this album deserves a chance, and probably deserves several repeat listens. I challenge you to give it 5 or 6 spins and not start to love it. In the end I feel I have to give Divers 4 out 5 stars.




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