Joanna Newsom brings back the harp with new album 'Divers'

To stand out from the rest in the crowded musical scene, it is necessary for an artist to create a niche. Joanna Newsom certainly fills a genre all her own with the musically intriguing combination of sweeping vocals and the use of the out-of-fashion harp as her main instrument.

Newsom is known for her long tracks, but this album has a solid combination between short and long, with the title track "Divers" standing at just over seven minutes and the shortest being "The Things I Say" at about 2 1/2 minutes.  

What is immediately apparent when turning on "Divers" is the recurrence of Newsom's signature harp instrumentation. Unlike earlier releases which show her experimenting with ways to fit the traditional instrument in with more contemporary sounds and structures, this album displays her gained experience and her ability to implement the instrument to the highest degrees. At some points, she will pick at single notes with arpeggios, while other times, she hits multiple notes to create a more rhythmic chord progression.

Likewise, Newsom's vocal harmony has evolved from her previous albums like "The Milk-Eyed Mender and "Have One On Me."  She no longer uses her voice to pull off high pitch squeals or vocal "hiccups," but seems more confident in her voice. She has matured as a singer, now comfortably working inside of her large range in an almost classical manner. This is not to say Newsom has retired her voice, but that she has more mastery of it.  

"Sapokanikan," which was the only song to be released as a single with a video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is still one of the strongest tracks. It blends Newsom's old sound and lyrical storytelling with her progression into a more contemporary audio setting.

The most surprising track is "Leaving the City," which is the only one to incorporate a drum mix that seems like it could be taken from a heavy rock song. The song is uncharacteristic for Newsom, giving the listener some variety. 

The title track is the longest on the album, as well as the mid-point and the most important structurally and philosophically. The song recounts a love of the narrator with the diver, who may be an actual person or a representative signifier. 

It seems the diver stands for something outside of a real human being. The lyrics reflect a state of flux for the diver. Newsom coos "How do you choose your name?/ How do you choose your life?"

The album ends with song "Time, As a Symptom," which takes its title from the line in the song that says time is a symptom of love. Perhaps this song can give some insight into the album's theme as a whole. The narrator has a love for the mysterious figure of the diver, that seems to haunt her recurrently inside each one of the tracks. 

Joanna Newsom's "Divers" is one of the best releases so far this year. It is highly recommended to anyone who may be familiar with Newsom's earlier music or who wants to branch out from their Nirvana-inspired haze of alternative rock. Although that's entirely tongue-in-cheek for someone who wrote this entire article while listening to Nirvana's "Bleach."

Related Link:

Harpist Joanna Newsom wows audience at Orpheum Theatre


Reach the reporter at lsaether@asu.edu or follow @looooogaaan on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.