My Favorite Album: Strand of Oaks on Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024  

My Favorite Album: Strand of Oaks on Joanna Newsom’s “Ys”

“Joanna Newsom as a lyricist stands at some grander place than me, and I am deeply reassured by that.”

Jul 30, 2020 Joanna Newsom Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

Music is infinite and at least for me should never be put in absolute terms. I have no favorite record because I have thousands upon thousands of hours of music that has equally elevated me. So I spent a few moments with my records, looking through so many beautiful gifts of magic, each holding so much power in my life. In some form of celestial organization I noticed that [Brian] Eno’s Discreet Music was right next to [Joanna] Newsom’s Ys. One serves as inter-dimensional skeleton key, and the other is a dictionary to accompany you into the wormhole.

So let’s just imagine that we’ve entered the wormhole via Discreet Music, and now we need to be taught how to exist in this new experience. That teacher is Joanna Newsom, and luckily she has transcribed these commandments to melody. I think all good teachers are intimidating in their own unique way. Joanna Newsom as a lyricist stands at some grander place than me, and I am deeply reassured by that.

The world-building level of this record is immense. If I would’ve heard Ys at the height of my imagination as a child, I would’ve conceived a sunset horizon, and above it a floating Eden. Newsom is the omnipotent gardener who maintains and further nourishes Eden with its own origin story. “Emily” is the source of the river, “Monkey & Bear” is earth holding up the river, “Sawdust & Diamonds” is the spark of light that brings life, “Only Skin” is the moment of awareness, “Cosmia” is the future and the eventual dissolution of everything.

The only problem that this floating island called Ys is out of my reach. I can hear the music and stories, and create my own substitute version, but the full experience is unattainable. It’s out of all of our reach because we unfortunately don’t get to be in whatever sacred moment of connection that Joanna Newsom had to be in to write a record like Ys. She is not unique because she found this lost island of Ys. She is unique because she was somehow able to bring it back to us, to listen, learn, and grow.

(Timothy Showalter is the main creative force behind Strand of Oaks. He was born in Goshen, Indiana in 1982, but

for a while he has been based in Philadelphia, PA. Strand of Oaks’ most recent album, Eraserland, Showalter’s sixth, was released earlier this year on Dead Oceans. The majority of My Morning Jacket back-up Showalter on Eraserland, which also features Jason Isbell and Emma Ruth Rundle.)

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

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