The All Present “I”: Joanna Newsome – “Time, As A Symptom”

joanna newsome

Joanna Newsome

“Time, As A Symptom”

Divers

Joanna Newsome has found her voice on this album, literally.  I’ve always loved Newsome’s voice, but she has founded she has a soprano range, and when she reaches for those notes, it’s like the goddess herself has spoken.  Don’t expect any simple songs on this album: like her hero, William Blake, there is so much going on in her songs, one could form a support group to just talk about each song.

Though Newsom has said that this is her first album based on an over-arching concept — a musical one, a peculiarly notated harmonic system that runs throughout its eleven songs in subtle arcs — the trajectories Divers takes also make it feel like her most eclectic work.

According to NPR:

The album’s title track makes these tensions clear. It’s one of Newsom’s most beautiful and accessible songs, a seven-minute rhapsody voiced by a woman observing a diver whom she desires, but cannot really know. “I know we must abide, each by the rules that bind us here,” Newsom sings in her rich, restrained lower register as her harp and keyboard lines wash against each other in thickening arpeggios. “The divers, and the sailors, and the women on the pier.” A 21st-century feminist might balk at this seeming acceptance of women’s passivity, but in ways that echo Jean Rhys’s retelling ofJane Eyre, Angela Carter’s fairy tales or Toni Morrison’s forays into the fantastic, Divers digs into a centuries-deep well of stories told about men who act and fight and die, and women who watch and wait and hold memories. Newsom the artist is the diver, too, exploring the defining narratives that make rifts in the infinite.

The final song, “Time, As A Symptom”, invokes the spirit of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, a strong yet passive goddess.  Diver is a wonderful album that is more anecdotal and narrative than her previous albums, with the spirit of Newsome as the all present “I”.  This is a stunning piece of work by an astonishing artist.

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