My Favorite Album: One True Pairing on Joanna Newsom’s "The Milk Eyed Mender" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

My Favorite Album: One True Pairing on Joanna Newsom’s “The Milk Eyed Mender”

“This is the one that shook me at the time, and still rattles me every time I hear it.”

Sep 15, 2020 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney
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I’d recently moved from my hometown and was spending all the money I’d saved working in a supermarket warehouse on CDs. In about two weeks, I’d come across [Madvillain’s] Madvillainy, [John Fahey’s] Blind Joe Death, Tower Recordings, Animal Collective, etc., etc., but this was the record that really stuck. A woman, a girl really, barely older than me, putting together these fantastical songs over a concert harp, and virtually nothing else.  

Thing is, at the time, what is always read as cute or precious—the cascading harp chords, the insane caw of her voice, the mad metaphors, and rhymes—I never heard it as such. I heard folk music, I heard existential panic, I heard pained love. “Yonder, wild, and blue, the wild blue yonder looms.” I mean, that is ridiculous, intimidating, Shakespeare-level. “Never get so attached to a poem/you forget truth that lacks lyricism”—that’s become my whole reason for continuing, and she sung that when I was barely getting started, when she was virtually my age. ALL THE LOST TIME. The hours I spent trying to get those chord inversions out of my six strings, when she had what sounded like 1500, trying to tell stories in the same way (I failed), disregarding my friends who were getting deeper into production and recording techniques (why bother when you can sound like this?). Behind all the otherworldly stuff were folk songs and hymn tunes, and I’d never heard such a simple style stretched this far. You could call it escapism, but it didn’t feel anything like that—I went along with every word game, every screech, every time she veered between Walt Disney and Walt Whitman. Every decision she made I got behind, even when it missed. I sat in the front row of her concert like a tragic fanboy, watching her fingers and getting punched in the gut, wondering what the hell I was going to do with this new knowledge. 

To follow were far more complete records, celebrity, The Muppets etc., etc., but this is the one that shook me at the time, and still rattles me every time I hear it. There are some bits of it I definitely don’t need to hear again, and the sad part is that these days, with a greatly more weary perspective, I might never have bothered with this record. Even after everything else I’ve heard, when I don’t know what I’m doing, or am losing the thread of why I do it, this album refocuses. Everything else is just decoration.

(Tom Fleming was formerly a member British art-rockers Wild Beasts, who called it quits in 2018. One True Pairing is his new solo project and his self-titled debut album under that name is a 2019 release on Domino.) 

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.]

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