Music News

Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me, in "Nothing Not New"

Artist: Joanna Newsom

Title: Have One on Me
Release date: February 23
Label: Drag City

Welcome to March. Tons of records are coming out this month that I plan to listen to: Liars, Ruby Suns, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ted Leo, Drive-By Truckers, Dillinger Escape Plan, Dum Dum Girls, She & Him, and the list goes on. Thanks for following me this far on our musical adventure.

As is customary in "Nothing Not New," I'm going to give a list of 10 songs I really liked in the month that just passed. I anticipate that some of these will appear on the "Nothing Not New" podcast that we're working on, as soon as work stops getting in the way.

"NNN" February playlist:

Brian Jonestown Massacre: "Let's Go Fucking Mental"
The Soft Pack: "Answer to Yourself"
Juliana Hatfield: "Dear Anonymous"
Shout Out Louds: "Walls"
Allison Moorer: "When You Wake Up Feeling Bad"
Pierced Arrows: "On the Move"
The Brunettes: "In Colours"
Joanna Newsom: "Jackrabbits"
The Strange Boys: "Laugh at Sex, Not Her"
Tindersticks: "Black Smoke"

March begins with one of the most-talked-about artists going right now: Joanna Newsom, a singing harp player from California. She's a darling in the eyes of most critics, and it's easy to see why: She's a one-of-a-kind artist with a clear vision and a seemingly endless wellspring of ideas. Soooooo many ideas, in fact, that she just had to put them all into a two-hour-long triple album, one that listens more like a symphony than a rock record.

Ms. Newsom needs an editor. I guess she's lucky to have maverick indie label Drag City letting her do whatever she wants -- I hate major labels as much as the next guy -- but it would be interesting to see what those bottom-line jerks in Hollywood could do with someone as obviously talented as Newsom. There's a great 40-minute record somewhere in this two-hour morass.

As it stands, it's nearly unlistenable. Seriously. All those people who say they love this record will never listen to it in its entirety more than once. For one thing, its shear length is prohibitive. For another, the songs all sound exactly the same after about the 38-minute mark. For me, it became impossible to differentiate the songs. And with each one clocking in around seven or eight minutes, I didn't know where the songs began or ended. 

Newsom's got one of those voices that you instantly fall in love with then fall out of love nearly as quickly. It really is an amazing voice -- kind of angelic but chirpy. Yet this soprano, which can carry a pretty melody without getting stuck in your head, just became grating after a while. She sings like a bird but I could make out very few of the lyrics. And I don't have another two hours to spare to re-listen to this mess. And I'll bet you a million dollars that you don't either.

Best song: "'81," for no other reason that it is a digestible 3:52. Most everything else seems interminable.
Rotation: Low. Yeah, I get that this is the kind of music that is supposed to grow on you, but there's too much here to fully absorb.
Deja Vu: A night at the symphony, only with no exciting conclusion -- and no standing ovation.
I'd rather listen to: Any one of these triple albums: PiL's The Metal Box, The Clash's Sandinista!, or Neil Young's Decade.
Grade: A for ambition, talent, and ideas. F for lack of self-awareness, editing, and an annoying disregard for the audience. Overall grade: C
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett