Better Late Than Never 001:  Joanna Newsom – Divers [album review]

Better Late Than Never 001: Joanna Newsom – Divers [album review]

Monday, 04 January 2016
Divers is the fourth studio album by U.S. singer-lyricist Joanna Newsom, released on October 23, 2015 via Drag City.
Release date: October 23, 2015
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Label: Drag City
Genre: Baroque pop, Avant-garde music
Producers: Joanna Newsom, Noah Georgeson


This album was released a couple of months ago – Joanna’s first new album in five years. I never started listening to her until about two years ago. I discovered her when a very good friend of mine said she dreamed of becoming a harp player. I wanted to see who else was playing harp and was overwhelmed by the discovery of Joanna and her extremely unique voice, song-stories, and musical talents. I have to say, I fell in love with her after just two or three days of listening to every song I could find by her.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Listen closely to the words that singers write their songs with. There are gold mines of meaning and interpretation to be discovered if you will take the time to digest what it is our muses create and share with us. Some musicians make the meaning of their songs very clear and easy to access, and others mask their song’s meanings in mystery. Joanna puts so much meaning into her songs, she refers to complex ideas about time, history, love, light & darkness, death, and events that may have happened (or may be yet to happen) in other dimensions… She is an enigmatic messenger of divine explanations of just how complex life and love in this world is – citing us to live life, and to love to the fullest before our time here is over.

Joanna’s music is a bit of an acquired taste. There are people I know that dislike her the way that I dislike pop singers like Madonna, and/or Celine Dion (no offense to the skill and talent those singers have, they just are not my cuppa tea – they do not move me). And that’s alright. I’m glad that she’s not understood by the masses. In preparing to write my thoughts about this album I found a website that shares the lyrics to all the new songs, but also has open discussions about what some pretty devout fans/followers think the songs might mean. This was quite a revelation for me, because the insights that these folks share lend more insight to just how amazingly complex Joanna is as a songwriter and a musician.

There are elements of character and personality in Joanna’s voice that remind me of the many ages of innocence and wisdom a person experiences and achieves in a lifetime. There are times when she sounds like a very young girl, and other times when her voice resonates with a tremor of a devoted lover, other times when she sounds like a wise crone. I think that Joanna has been successful in keeping her muse spirit alive – despite the success she has achieved. For some singers, the stress of success drives them to become hardened and they lose contact with their genuineness. In her videos, you can see that something about life has worn upon her. Her eyes reflect experience of love and sadness, which she imbibes and explains so deeply in her lyrics.

One line from the main title, ‘Divers’ reads…

“And never will I wed.

I’ll hunt the pearl of death to the bottom of my life,

and ever hold my breath ’til I may be the diver’s wife.”

This epitomizes the way that Joanna views life, that she strives to possess the ultimate understanding of all matters of life and love (as well as death) in all the moments of her existence.

In the opening track, ‘Sapokanikan’ is named after an area of land in the cove of New York’s Hudson River. A Native American tribe known as the Lenape originally settled here, and it’s now known as Gansevoort Street in Greenwich Village. Singing this song in her video for us she prances and skips through this neighborhood, oblivious to any other pedestrians and onlookers.

She is beautiful to simply listen to, but she is captivating to come to ponder and understand. This is an album to be listened to closely, to be studied, to be meditated upon. There is nothing here that does not lead to deeper understanding of life, love, pain, and loss in this world. This music is medicine for the world weary soul.

I believe that Joanna may be an angelic being in human form, or a shamanness and shape-shifter. How else can a mere human become able to create such mesmerizing and trance inducing stories wrapped up in melodies that transport her listeners so far into other dimensions of imagination and emotion. She’s so unlike anyone else.

I thought earlier of comparing her to Kate Bush, and maybe she is this generation’s comparable muse – though Kate was tremendously unique and un-matchable.. and then I thought of comparing her musical composition skills to Frank Zappa, but again, Frank was so extremely unique and the basis of Joanna’s music foundations are not in any way reminiscent of the sound of Frank’s… but what if Joanna were a secret love child that Kate and Frank had given birth to, haha, oh man be careful what you say. You never know who’s listening. And you never know what truths you may jokingly uncover, haha 😉 Playing with this idea though, what do you readers think about who could have been her secret parents? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.


You can buy Joanna Newsom – Divers via these sellers.


(Btw, I’m starting up a new column here at Ground Control Magazine called “Better Late Than Never” for reviews that are not written up immediately following newly released material. Sometimes I don’t discover new music till it’s been out for 3 months, or 6 months… I’m getting old that way ;))

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