Weclome to part two of the Joanna Newsom/Divers roundtable! In part one my interviewees answered questions about their relationship to JN’s music in general: how they discovered it, what they find most engaging/exciting about it, and their feelings about her catalog thus far. Here in part two we’ll be discussing JN’s brand new record Divers in detail; out for only a week now, fans have already sussed out which songs were love at first sight and which might be “growers,” and are beginning to think about how the record might fit, or diverge, into/from JN’s corpus.
The day I got the record I lay down on my couch, put on my headphones, and listened to Divers in its entirety with my dog curled up next to me. For the next several nights, I’d go to bed an hour early, turn out all the lights, and listen to the record from beginning to end: an embodied sonic, emotional experience that left me feeling all kinds of soft and tender about humans and our ability, or lack thereof, to deal with love, temporality, sorrow, and joy. My skin was onion-thin, all raw and porous in the wake of JN’s brilliant, generous lyrics and melodies; in other words, I’m in love.
I recommend buying the record on vinyl; this version comes with beautiful, broadside-like individual prints for each song’s lyrics, printed with Kim Keever’s surreal, gorgeous artwork on one side and the lyrics on the other.
Read reactions to Divers from my interviewees, who I will introduce once again, with extra feeling:
Beverly Floyd is an English lit. student (who hates literary analysis). She loves dogs, swimming in rivers and oceans, hot weather, basking in the sun like a lizard, and staying up and talking with her friends until dawn.
Rosa Hinksman is a 23-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist living in Warwickshire, UK. She recently graduated from a Music degree at Lancaster University and has been a long time fan of Joanna Newsom since early 2007. In her spare time she performs music, attends local gigs, and paints.
Scott Horsington started the Joanna Newsom Transcription Project in January of 2007 during his senior year of college so that people would be able to play accurate versions of Joanna’s songs. He has bachelors and masters degrees in music and is currently a professor at a liberal arts college in Western New York, where he teaches a handful of music classes and conducts the college orchestra.
Melissa Marturano hails from Brooklyn, NY and is a feminist killjoy, doctoral candidate, and teacher. Joanna Newsom has had a dramatic influence on Melissa’s life and sanity—no other musician has made her feel so human and has made her cry so much on public transportation.
Priscilla Wright is a Montessori preschool teacher and a writer from Eugene, Oregon. Her personal essay “Season” was included in Visions of Joanna Newsom.
How did you “do” your first listen of Divers in its entirety? What were your initial reactions after this first listen?
Beverly Floyd: It leaked on a day when I had a lot of schoolwork to do (which, incidentally, did not get completed), so I didn’t get to do anything too special—I would’ve really liked to have poured myself a thermos of wine, gone somewhere really beautiful, and listened. Instead, I just put the album on my phone and went and laid in the grass overlooking the pond at my college and listened while alternately closing my eyes and staring at the fall foliage. It was sunny out, and definitely a gorgeous day for a leak and a pondside listen.
My first reaction was “this is incredible.” I remember having no idea what was going on, lyrically, in “Goose Eggs,” but I couldn’t stop smiling when I heard it. It was very similar to the reaction I had when I first heard the studio version of “Sapokanikan,” but even better, because it was completely unfamiliar. Then “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” came on and I was totally blown away. I just wanted to stand up and twirl around to it. It was such a nice surprise, because it’s usually Joanna’s solemn sounding songs that I tend to fixate on immediately.
When I finished the album, I was surprised by how quickly 52 minutes had gone by. I impulsively let it loop back to the beginning and start over, something I really shouldn’t have done during midterms (but, you know, YOLO).
Rosa Hinksman: My first listen of the album took place in the evening and I basically listened to it as soon as I got my hands on a copy. I sat and listened in a darkened room with a small lamp on so that I could really focus, and I was completely blown away with the storylike nature of the album and also by how amazing her voice sounds now that it seems to have matured.
Scott Horsington: I laid on my bed with headphones and an iPod for my first listen. I had to meet a friend for dinner and wound up sitting in my car listening to “Pin-Light”, which was a really important/impactful moment, and “Time, As a Symptom” while driving through my old neighborhood.
My initial reaction is that the album is just what I’d hoped for: an amalgamation of the three previous albums. It seems exactly like the album she would’ve written at this age and stage in her life after five years off. There were so many moments that reminded me of MEM, but never in the sense of regression – just that all those old, past selves and musical proclivities have certainly stayed with her. I’m a huge St. Vincent fan, and with her latest album, she said it felt like she finally created music that sounded like her truest sound – I kind of got the same sense about this album.
Melissa Marturano: I listened to the leak. If Joanna reads this, I’m sorry, Joanna. But it’s actually really OK because you and Drag City already had my $28 dollars plus shipping and handling and Drag City admitted the album would come late and I’m weak. Anyway…I rushed home after working all day, sat down at my computer, put on my best headphones, opened up the lyrics in my browser, got some post-it notes ready to jot down ideas, and a sundae. It was all very decadent and relaxed. I rarely allow myself to be either because I am a type-A, overworked, and underpaid academic. I absolutely loved “Anecdotes” and started crying at the end because it is so achingly beautiful and then I had to chance to calm down because “Sapokanikan” and “Leaving the City” came on, which I have already digested thoroughly.
Priscilla Wright: I got Divers when I was home for my lunch break, but I didn’t have enough time to listen to the whole album, so I finished the last two songs in the car on my way back to work.
I enjoyed the first three-quarters of the album. But when I got to track nine, I started to hear . . . lifelessness. I’ve watched other fans have an opposite reaction, so I know my experience has not been the norm, but when I finished Divers, I wanted to go back to the few songs that intrigued me and leave the rest — especially the last three songs — out of it. It’s been a bit odd seeing others first impressions: people in tears or shaking! Not at all my experience. That being said, I also knew I had to listen again and again and again to really know how I feel about it (and I’m not even there yet!).
Which songs have you found yourself drawn to most immediately and why? Are there any lyrics/lines that have particularly blown you away, either due to their content, arrangements, the way JN sings them or a combination of the three?
Floyd: Upon my first listen, my three favorites (amongst songs I hadn’t yet heard) were, and have remained, “Goose Eggs,” “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne,” and “A Pin-Light Bent.”
“Goose Eggs” is perfect in every way. It might be my favorite, both lyrically and musically. I love how JN sings so many of the words & phrases in this one: “vamoose,” “Recently,” “Not you, honey! You I know,” to mention a few. I have no idea how she managed to turn the word “recently” into a highlight, but I love it. I adore the unexpected vocal melodies and the harpsichord, and, I have to admit, I relate so much to those geese, “who never find their peace, whether north, or south, or west, or east; west or east.” When I do a very literal reading of those sections of the song, they speak so much to a restless energy that I possess, and how I’m currently split between two places (New England, where I go to school, and Oregon, where many people I love reside) and also feel this pull to be elsewhere. I feel like I’m always plotting my next move, instead of looking for ways to make my present situation ideal. Maybe I just haven’t found the right place yet— or maybe I never will. I apologize for going off on a tangent. Joanna’s music causes me to do that a lot. When I factor time, as a recurring theme, into my little personal analysis, the song gets deeper and more intense. I could talk about how it makes me feel all day.
“Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” takes me back to when I was 21 and was weirdly into theoretical physics. I thought a lot about time travel and space-time and Joanna Newsom back then, but I never expected them to all to come together in a beautifully woven narrative. Despite the lyrical content being very heavy, the song does not sound sad. And the way she sings, “Highlands away, my John” in the last stanza gives me chills.
I think “A Pin-Light Bent” is the prettiest song on the album. This was a turning point in the album for me— I went so still as soon as it started playing. Highlights: “poor flight attendant,” that harp, that rhyme pattern. The line “My life came and went” leaves me in shambles every time.
Hinksman: The songs that I am most drawn to are “Anecdotes”, “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” and “Time, As a Symptom”, which seem to form some kind of trilogy. The use of time within these songs is so fascinating and I never really expected to hear her creating a sci-fi story within a song, but aside from the amazing lyrical content I also love how she sings in a higher register for significant portions of these songs, almost as if to suggest different characters singing, perhaps. The orchestral arrangements are also so beautiful and match the moods of the songs entirely.
Horsington: “Pin-Light” really pulled me in, just like the original MEM songs do. There is so much to say for simplicity in musical content. At first it actually sounded like Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis 5!” Not in a bad way, but it reminded me of that. I live across from an art gallery, and at this point in my first listen I was sitting in my turned off car. Seeing all this movement around me from living in a city juxtaposed with this quiet moment created from “Pin-Light” was probably the greatest moment in the whole listening experience. As I said in my first round of questions, I love that these small worlds or spaces are created, so this was very fulfilling for me. “Time, As a Symptom” has a great build-up – I wish I could say more, but it’s all said in the song.
Honorable mentions are “Anecdotes” and “Goose Eggs”: “Anecdotes” is so recognizably arranged by Nico Muhly, which was awesome, and I love the whacky effects on the harp in the middle. “Goose Eggs” is so cuckoo, but not in a bad way – it’s somehow weirdly Baroque, but makes me think of that 1970s California/Laurel Canyon sound that Jenny Lewis channels in her own music. It also made me think of “Whiter Shade of Pale”.
Marturano: As mentioned, I was immediately drawn to “Anecdotes” and I still love “Sapokanikan.” I also am obsessed with “Waltz of the 101st Lightbourne,” “Divers,” “A Pin-Light Bent,” and “Time, as a Symptom.” The other songs I haven’t connected with as much yet, and I don’t think I’ll ever much like “Goose Eggs” sonically, although the lyrics will be interesting for me. I am amazed at the musical variety of the album, though: Joanna did not lie when she said that although each song is asking “the same question” (a question she has also asked before), each song would still have its distinct musical universe. I love the versatility of style, genre, and influence on this album just like on Have One on Me. Her voice is also wonderful on this album. It brings back the type of timbre I liked about Ys, but her range is better. I just cannot believe it.
Lyrically and musically I have been thinking the most about “Anecdotes,” “Divers,” and “Waltz.” They are the narratives I really want to unlock after more listens. I am going to try not to wax rhapsodically about these songs until I have thought about them more, but I will say that what I love about “Anecdotes” and “Waltz” is they are both about wars and the relationships sundered by war. One of the narrators in “Anecdotes” cannot control time and desperately wishes that he could and the characters in “Waltz” can control time, understanding that “time is taller than space is wide,” but they are still mortal, they are still wounded (“Honey, where did you come by that wound?”). “Sapokanikan” also has John Purroy Mitchel leaving for war and not coming home like the Lenape people before him, but he has a monument for his death and they do not. The flight attendant who falls out of a plane in “Pin-Light Bent” has a poem from John L. Dickey. A textual, if not physical, monument of sorts. Is their mortality more valuable than that of a whole people? Who matters? Is she making them matter with this album? In “Divers” the male pearl diver is on a heroic mission and a woman waits, holding onto the memory, like the wife waiting for Mitchel, the daughter in “Anecdotes,” like the woman in “Goose Eggs.” (Seriously, the war imagery and the “woman in waiting” imagery is everywhere). The “woman is alive” in “Divers”, asserting that she should be remembered, but she is alive to remember him, too. So much can be created with time: love, deep relationships, but time always causes those loves to die. Time is a paradox of life and death and that is why we see so much emphasis on birth and death in here (“Time, As A Symptom”).
Wright: “Sapokanikan” and “Anecdotes” on one side, “Goose Eggs” and “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” on the other. Each pair seems to go together in a specific way. I’d already heard Sapokanikan, of course, so it’s been working on me for years — nothing immediate there. But oh my is that song beautiful. Anecdotes is also very beautiful and intense in a similar way, with soaring and sinking moments (and that ending, “Daughter when you are able . . .”). “Goose Eggs” and “Waltz” are folk-hearted and in both, “honey” lines have stuck in my head (“Not you, honey! You I know,” and “Honey, where did you come by that wound?”).
There is not any specific line that has blown me away based on its lyrical content alone, but there are many lines that move me based on the way Joanna sings them (the lines quoted in the last paragraph, basically). I don’t think there are that many lines in Sapokanikan that are inherently quotable sans music (when I feel like nearly every line on Ys is quotable, repeatable, tattoo-able . . .), but when listening, I get the feeling that each line, as she sings it, is one of the best lines ever written. There are lines like that in many of the songs that only feel intense contextually.
At this early stage, how do you see this record fitting in with JN’s catalog? Do you see parallels or similarities with past albums in any particular ways, and if so, in what ways?
Floyd: I see it as her catalog’s crowning glory. Just kidding! Kinda. It’s hard to compare it to the rest of her catalog, because it seems to simultaneously pull from all of the work she’s released and push away from it. I think that working with a variety of arrangers was such a brilliant idea, and obviously contributed to the tonal variegation of the record. Scott Horsington said to me recently that he thinks this sounds more “like her” than anything else she’s released, and I think I agree. In that way, it feels close to The Milk-Eyed Mender. I don’t think that any of the songs sound similar to MEM songs, and the song structures feel totally different to me, but even with all of the arrangements, the songs on Divers seem to belong very much to her. Even though she obviously had a lot of control over the arrangements for Ys and HOoM, each album is grounded by both her and the arrangers. On Divers, she is the one stabilizing, grounding force, so even though every song sounds very different, the album definitely feels cohesive. I suppose that’s the way in which I see it as similar to MEM. It feels 100% Joanna, arrangers be damned (not really—I love your arrangements). And she’s experimenting with shorter songs again, like she did on MEM, but they feel just as full, lyrically, as many of the longer songs on Ys and HOoM. So in those ways it looks back to her past catalog.
At the same time, it’s very different than anything else she’s released. Not just in the way it sounds, but in the way that Time factors in as a very obvious overarching theme. I don’t think I could pick out a single theme that I would boil any of her other albums down to. With Divers, though, it seems safe to say that the exploration of Time unifies the songs, and I believe it gives this album universal appeal. I’ve always felt a personal/emotional connection to her music, but many of those connections were very specific. For example, “In California,” “Sadie,” “Sawdust & Diamonds,” and “Cosmia” all tear at my heart for precise reasons, and they still make me sad because I remember what they meant to me at certain times in my life. I’m sure I’ll connect to songs from Divers in similarly specific ways, but I don’t think I’ll outgrow the feeling of being stunned by her exploration of mortality. One way the motif of Time functions is to explore that heartbreaking, inescapable aspect of human life that is the limited scope of our lives. I reckon that anyone who’s sat up late at night, stunned from a moment of clarity about the ephemeral nature of their life, and the lives of those they love, can find something to connect to.
Hinksman: I definitely see some similarities with Ys in the orchestral parts and in the vocal production, but I think the use of synthesizers in many tracks is a welcome addition to her music. I also think her voice now seems to be a perfect blend of the sounds we heard from her in all of her previous albums. “Same Old Man” definitely brings back a very Milk-Eyed Mender-like quality.
Horsington: As I said, there were lots of little remnants of MEM on it: the synths and electric piano reminded me of her early EPs. “101st Lightborn” reminds me a lot of “Inflammatory Writ”. Those piano-only and harp-only songs really hit me right in my musical aesthetic. People always seems to get so hung-up on length: while Ys and HOOM are definitely amazing in their own rights, I almost feel like Divers is so much more infinitely precise and well-crafted, if only because she is older now and has done this before – it seems like such a departure from those two albums, but also definitely from the same sort of place that MEM came from. I also like that she explored other arrangers besides Ryan Francesconi. It didn’t occur to me until hearing the album, but her Ys tour and the HOOM era led to her sound being heavily influenced by his arrangements – sort of like Fiona Apple’s first two albums really reflect Jon Brion’s sound and not necessarily her own.
When I was transcribing her music for JNTP, I actually got a little annoyed at HOOM – it was like “okay, here we go again with that same rhythmic pattern in the left hand and the same improvisations in the right hand.” I still like the album, obviously, but maybe it felt a little bit like she really exhausted some kind of compositional process or technique. Maybe she didn’t, but so much of Divers is fresh to me while still being distinctly hers. Those idiosyncratic moments are still there, but not in a bad way. Maybe it’s part of growing up: you learn how to mean just as much, but with fewer words.
Marturano: I have seen this word thrown around a lot in reviews of Divers, but “culmination” is really the best word to describe this album in many ways. She has had all this grandiose concerns about love, death, life, birds, water, memory, agriculture, nature, femininity, and time forever and it just crystallizes all beautifully here. A specific parallel I have noticed to her earlier corpus and something I have always been fascinated by is how connected water, freedom, and femininity are for Joanna. “Colleen,” “Divers,” “Only Skin,” “Monkey & Bear.” How do these women find freedom, identity, rebirth in water? “Emily” I think is another touchstone for this album. The narrator in that Ys song comes home to her family, after being embattled and separated from her family, and tries to repair what time has damaged. This reminds me of so many of the stories we see on Divers. An additional element that “Emily” forecasted for Divers is how home, family, and the healing of relationships are all intimately tied to nature and to memory. The chorus of “Emily” is an expression of a memory bound in nature, a moment of bonding between two sisters, one an artist and one a scientist, as they sit by a river and look up at the heavens and deep space, an actual setting for a song on Divers. Joanna revels in the “sweetness of being” in “Emily,” but this sweetness is juxtaposed and undermined throughout that verse with imagery and reminders of hers and our own mortality. The Christian sacrament of communion which Joanna explicitly references in this verse of the song (“take this and eat this”) commemorates that very paradox of life and death: the Eucharist promises those who eat it a blessed existence on earth and a blessed existence in heaven. But the Eucharist is the physical embodiment of Christ’s mortal corpse. As they eat the Eucharist, they are eating life and death, the inevitable cycle of our life and of humanity as a whole. And we must consider that rebirth itself is a form of death. We see this very undermining and juxtaposition of life and death, mortality and immortality in“Anecdotes” and “Time, As a Symptom.”
One thing that I will never analyze, but it’s everywhere in Divers and elsewhere in her corpus, is bird imagery. A bird enthusiast should catalogue and analyze all the bird allusions and references on her albums. The birds themselves on this album are divers (the geese on “Goose Eggs” can be the actual birds and warplanes). I’m a New Yorker and am extremely alienated from nature (thanks, Marx), but someone who is not, please write a long, long essay on birds in her corpus so I can understand? Thanks.
Wright: I’ve seen a lot of talk about Divers being very different from anything else, but I don’t see it that way. Perhaps that’s my focus on general, overall sound and song structure as opposed to specific instruments (which I know very little about). While each of her previous albums has been very different from the one before, I truly think many songs from Divers could fit on Have One On Me without feeling out of place. “Goose Eggs” reminds me of “Good Intentions Paving Company” quite a bit. I could absolutely hear “Divers” fitting in on the third disc. “Leaving the City”, “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive” and the end of “Time, As a Symptom” are more divergent but overall I don’t view Divers as a huge change.
Are there any qualities in Divers that are unexpected or suprising to you (either positively or negatively)? If so, which moments and why?
Floyd: I think the most surprising qualities are embodied in “Leaving the City,” which I’d already spent over a month with (not including the two years I was listening to the live performance) leading up to the release of the album. Sonically, that song seems the most divergent to me, and it’s maybe not my favorite sound. It wasn’t, however, ever destined to be my favorite song—of the four songs she did live performances of over the past 3.5 years, it was my least favorite. There are aspects of the lyrics that I really like, and in theory I like the segments where the drums kick in, but there’s something about it that I struggle with. Some of my friends have offered excellent anti-capitalist readings of the song that are piquing my interest. However, one of those friends also said something about the way this song sounds that, while probably meant in jest, I can never un-hear. That’s not relevant to this question, though. Basically, I was not expecting a Joanna song that sounds this way, and that’s ok—I love that she’s experimenting with her sound. She can literally do whatever she wants and I will probably love it.
Hinksman: I think the most surprising thing to me is the lack of harp on this album. I think only six of the eleven songs feature harp at all, and even then only one of the songs is for solo harp whereas in previous albums it’s usually a prominent instrument on the majority of tracks. However I see this as neither a negative or positive feature, because the songs are obviously very well thought out and I imagine she chose the instrumentation that she felt was necessarily for each mood.
Horsington: I love the exploration of sound distortion, like the effects on the harp in “Anecdotes” and the reversed vocals in “The Things I Say”. Even the weird synth bloops on “Divers”! While I am pretty against autotune on moral grounds, I do occasionally appreciate the use of it or other distortions for a specific effect – CocoRosie does this a lot. While there’s no autotune I can tell, I feel like these electronic distortions are really tasteful in their use and placement – it’s all to enhance the music or elicit a response, rather than cover something up.
Marturano: The first thing I said to Beverley was: “too much piano.” It was a weird reaction, I know. I do not know if I stand by that assessment today, but I really like when she plays the harp. She is already singular, but using that instruments makes her so much more so. I like that the harp, among so many of her other characteristics, makes her stand apart. As mentioned, I am so surprised by the changes in her voice and I can’t wait to hear her voice live, especially on Ys songs. I know I might sound ungrateful, but it pained me that I thought her voice would never again sound like it did on Ys and now I think it can again. A moment that is still lingering for me and I won’t forget it any time soon is where I first heard the key change in “Anecdotes” when she starts singing “rushing, tearing, speeding home…” It was the first moment I cried while listening to Divers. It’s astonishing in its beauty. That whole section filled with me such fear and dread because I am so afraid of death and there’s upper-octave harp notes trying to make me feel something else, like a joyful rushing, which in my mind, is a manifestation of the specific polarities and binaries Joanna said she was trying to express in this album. In a strange way, it’s exhilarating to be alive and to even think about how to evade and freeze time, how to commit “temporal infidelity.” The biggest pleasure of the album is that she wrote a science fiction song with a foot-stomping fiddle. Some of the lyrics in there suggest that the characters are colonizing time and because of this, are able to see time diachronically. One of them sees the golden ages of the Bering Strait and the Golden Gate, which could not have existed in the same time frame. And of course, this intellectual, scientific rumination on time is highly Romantic (with a capital “R”) and filled with her typical deeply evocative sense of pathos. It’s a science fiction song and a romance and a story of how war never ends and space as nature.
Wright: That the cover song [“Same Old Man” by Karen Dalton] was a cover surprised me — I remember hearing at one point that it was a cover (and she’d performed it), but then I completely forget and listened to it several times assuming it was her own song (and really liking it!). Her last recorded cover was on Milk-Eyed Mender, so it surprised me, but I very much enjoy it. The end of “The Things I Say”, with the reversal, was completely unexpected. That took me off guard and actually left me a bit unsettled. I’m still not really sure how I feel about it, but I lean toward disliking it.
I hate the idea of saying negative things because I know what a visceral reaction I have to people saying negative things about Joanna Newsom songs or lyrics I love. I appreciate that I’m saying something that will feel on a gut-level completely wrong and totally indefensible to many fans. But for the last surprise: there’s a straightforwardness in the lyrics in “Time, As A Symptom” and “A Pin-Light Bent” that surprised me in a negative way. After several listens, I now feel the intensity of “Time” as others appear to, but the lyrics are mostly unmoving to me — the only exception being the “life liver” part. I know that appreciation of lyrics is subjective, and it’s really hard to articulate what feels off to me, but the lyrics seem less layered, complex and poetic than what I’ve heard before, but also less interesting and impressive. That’s not to say I expect lyrics that are always so complex. “Does Not Suffice” is simple lyrically, and it’s one my favorites. Something within those lyrics just doesn’t resonate with me. I’m open to the idea that things will change in the future.
Mostly I’m surprised that Divers has not blown me away. It’s strange to see other people’s reactions and be unable to relate. I don’t even dislike the album; I suppose I just can’t help but compare my reaction to the stated reactions of other people with the same interest level. Ys is perfect, and it’s very difficult to not just want more Ys. I do not feel comfortable with this desire at all, but I felt it very strongly with HOOM. There are moments and there are songs, but overall, something is missing for me that was present before, and Divers has landed roughly the same way.
If you could create a dream set list for JN’s upcoming tour, limited to 3 songs from each album (so 12 songs total) what would that set list be and why?
Floyd: It felt a bit weird trying to figure out three songs from Ys to put on a setlist, because that’s over half of that album. I know there are people who will find this sacrilegious, but, with permission, I omitted an Ys song and added an extra song from Divers instead.
I really want to break the rules some more, and if I were to do so, the setlist would probably be something like seven songs from Divers, two from MEM, one from Ys, and two from Have One on Me. As it stands, there is logic behind the songs I chose, but it would be hard for me to explain it. I’ll say this: it would’ve been much too difficult to just choose my favorite songs, so I chose the songs from Divers I’d most like to see JN perform, and then chose the other songs based on what I think works the best thematically/compliments those songs. “Swansea” might be an exception to this, but I’d really love to hear her play it. There are a few older songs I chose because there are songs from Divers that seem to expand on ideas that were explored in them, and I chose a lot of songs that I’d place into the very vague category of “songs about coming & going.”
I chose some songs that are resonating deeply with me right now in the wake of the death of a not-too-close friend, but a friend nonetheless, who was very close with someone who means the world to me (sending all my love to you, J, wherever you are). This setlist, and probably every thought I’ve had about Divers thus far, is deeply influenced by the emotions I’m currently processing and my current fixations. I suppose that’s true of everyone, all the time.
“Waltz of the 101st Lightborne”
“Time, as a Symptom”
“Sawdust and Diamonds”
“Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
“Peach, Plum, Pear”
These are the songs that I think are most exciting to see her play live, from past experience, plus I have always wanted to see her perform “Only Skin”. I think the three songs I mentioned as a sort of trilogy from Divers would be amazing to see played one after the other, although I am also interested to see how she would perform “Goose Eggs” in terms of which instruments would be used.
Horsington: In album order:
It’s hard to choose some over others, but these are my favorites!
Ok, so here is my last bit:
It occurred to me that every other album has been during a period of transition of future-oriented-ness for me: being an undergraduate for MEM, approaching the end of my time there with Ys, followed by a move across the country to Arizona and then to Chicago for the end of grad school when HOOM came out. After that, I moved back to New York (state, not city – yuck), tried to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do with a masters degree in music, spent a lot of time being sad, and eventually found my footing again.
I turned 30 this summer and this is the first year I’ve really felt like I’m on the path to something, though I don’t know what. Turning 30 is weird because you really recognize that you are no longer young in the traditional sense, and that you are entering a new phase of life. I somehow felt younger after turning 30, like the numbers reset or something. Divers, then, is the first Joanna album of my adulthood, while all the others were from my youth. MEM was from ten years ago for me! Everything I’ve said above about how Divers relates to her catalog was suddenly very apparent to me on a visceral level during my first listen – it felt like the album of someone who has crossed that threshold of youth into adulthood, or at least into a later phase. Turning 30 is a big deal!
Every album takes me back to that time of life when I heavily listened. Divers triggers in me all those reflective thoughts about what I’ve done with my own life, where I have been, all those feelings of being oriented towards the future and wondering where I am headed, and now having that perspective to look back on my life and see how it has led me here – maybe it’s more about being past-oriented. I can’t say if this is true since I am not Joanna, obviously, but like I said, this album felt like what she would write at this stage in her life, and it felt so appropriate for me to receive this gift of music at this time in my own life, when everything is referencing backwards.
“Have One on Me”
“Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
“Does Not Suffice”
“Sawdust & Diamonds”
“Time, As a Symptom”
“Peach, Plum, Pear”
The songs from Divers are ones that I think would sound killer live and would yield magnificent vocal and instrumental performances from Joanna. I am also curious if she is going to play harp or piano on “Anecdotes.” The fiddle from “Waltz” will probably make me go bananas if I hear it. All the other songs are just my favorites from her albums. “Swansea” and “Does Not Suffice” I would love to see live, but we all know from my last interview that I would pay all the money just to see “Only Skin” live. I spent a lot of time on the order and I am not sure if it’s any good really. I am terrible at making playlists, so to speak, because I listen to whole albums. I love when she ends shows with “PPP.” I struggled with either having “Anecdotes” or “Emily” first, because they both set a very “opening” mood, but I like “Emily” more and decided I wanted to hear the loop everyone has been talking about between “Time…” and “Anecdotes.” I just know that “Only Skin” would have to come where they would be an extended break for me to cry.
“Yarn and Glue” (a cappella)
“Peach, Plum, Pear”
“Three Little Babes”
“Monkey and Bear”
“Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
“Ca the Yowes to the Knowes”
I’m still limiting it to twelve songs but being a bit freer with the choices. I have watched the video of her starting her show out with “Yarn and Glue” so many times that I can’t imagine a dreamier concert than one that starts out like that. From Divers, I’ve selected only “Sapokanikan” and “Anecdotes” — they’re the ones that feel most emotionally tender while remaining representative of what I’ve always loved in Joanna. My selections from MEM are made up of two of my favorite songs and a third (“Three Little Babes”) that I’m really curious to see live — I’m not sure she’s ever performed it! I specifically left off “Only Skin” because I genuinely don’t think I’d be able to handle it. That sounds silly, but it’d be like staring into the sun. “Emily” and “Monkey and Bear” are both profoundly heart-rending, but they’re not made up of the intense, breathless heartbreak that “Only Skin” is. I left my HOOM selection to “Go Long”, which is my favorite song from the album. I have a strange relationship with HOOM and generally don’t listen to it, but “Go Long” is always there for me. “Colleen” isn’t on a full-length album, but it is one I’d want to see most, and “Ca the Yowes to the Knowes” is like my comfort food.