Joanna Newsom's second album, Ys, is a daunting little number. Take the defiant medieval blonde on the cover, sickle in hand. Or the title itself, pronounced "ees," they say. Oh, and then there are the album's five epic tracks that go from a short seven minutes to a somewhat lengthier 17. But don't be put off! Rolling Stone might not like it, but Ys is no Sigur Ros-ian exercise in lengthiness; it's acoustic storytelling at its best.
Newsom's tales are captivating, from the sensuality of opener "Emily" with its chorus about fire and meteors, past the animal love of "Monkey & Bear" to closer "Cosmia," part celebration, part mourning. She's clearly a talented poet, but it's her voice and Ys's orchestration that push the album to great heights.
Some say post-Bj”rk, some say asthmatic, others say cutesy, but however you describe Newsom's unique voice, it works. Add to the mix near-epic orchestrations from Van Dyke Park (U2, Rufus Wainwright, Tim Buckley) and mastering at Abbey Road Studios, and you've got yourself an original album too polished and professional to be labeled experimental.
Ys is definitely nocturnal listening: carry it about at night with pillow and blanket in hand.