To listen to Joanna Newsom is to be transported through a space-time continuum, stopping off at various worlds and planets along the way. Her songs are richly diverse in sound and atmosphere; strange, bewitching, and beautiful all at once. Her voice is angelic, but with smoke and a gentle rasp that keeps it from ever sounding too flowery. And her latest record, Divers, finds Newsom continuing to explore unpredictable territory with her enchanting harp playing and uninhibited howl.
Perhaps the most magnificent song on Divers is its title track. Newsom pushes her voice to beguiling places, allowing it to function as its own instrument to a point of complete ambiguity. There are moments when she hits notes that are so in-synch with her harp it’s difficult to tell the two apart. This, in itself, is deeply and gorgeously confounding. At its best, Newsom’s music makes you second guess what your ears are capable of hearing, and Divers is perhaps her most ambitious record yet. Songs like “Anecdotes” and “Sapokanikan” play wondrous tricks on you as you listen — turning unanticipated corners, liquefying and blending like a Technicolor stream, literally daring you to dive in.
There is something celestial and otherworldly about Newsom’s arrangements, and they never do what you think they’re going to do. A banjo plucks on “Sam Old Man,” and the keyboard on “Goose Eggs” adds a jazzy Carole King vibe. So when a poetic and profound ballad like “Time, As a Symptom” shows up, stark and bare, it is perfectly jarring.
From the album cover to the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed video for “Sapokanikan” to Newsom’s eclectic array of aesthetics, Divers is a true art piece, full of sweeping drama. Yet it’s still cohesive and down to earth. Newsom’s lyrics are deeply personal, and may make you feel like she is inside your brain. “The Things I Say” listens like a meditation on self-consciousness we can all access.