“Have one on me” anytime, Joanna: a rebuttal to TK’s callous insult of the artist

25Feb10

If you’ve been following CKTK on Facebook (shameless plug ahoy), you would already know that TK and I have differing opinions on Joanna Newsom’s magnum opus Have One On Me. He eloquently stated his thoughts in the previous post, appropriately titled, “Less is More (or the Tale of an Artist-Insulting Curator)“. I began to write a rebuttal in the comment section, but it sprawled into a post-length diagnosis of TK’s problems. This post will make a lot more sense if you’ve read the original review and listened to the album.

Maybe you were able to listen to Ys as a whole, but I am not among those privileged few. Maybe I’ll get there someday, but right now, it’s too much for me. In fact, I was unable to get through a single track. I think I’ve listened to the album in its entirety twice since its 2006 release because each song is just too overwhelming for me to form coherent thoughts about. I’ve listened to individual tracks more often, but each one is just so, so massive. If I decide to listen to Joanna Newsom, I’m much more likely to go with 2004’s The Milk-Eyed Mender.

Now see, I found Have One On Me much more listenable than Ys primarily because the average track length is so much shorter. I don’t care that it’s two hours of music; I care that it’s 18 tracks instead of six. Have One On Me is a great improvement because she’s learned that it’s okay to create beautiful tracks that are “only” 6-8 minutes long. So it takes me two sittings to listen to the whole thing. So what? It’s like having an old VHS movie that was on two tapes, or watching any sporting event. An intermission can make a large whole into something digestible.

Look, listening to Joanna Newsom is like eating pancakes to me. I enjoy pancakes, I really do. But digging into a big ol’ pile of pancakes is a daunting task! I can’t drizzle syrup over five plate-sized pancakes and pound the whole stack. I usually get about halfway into one and think, “oh my gosh, why am I still eating a pancake?” There’s nothing wrong with pancakes. They’re just an overwhelming food. When I make smaller pancakes, however, I can eat five or six. They’re still fresh and tasty to me because they’re taken in smaller doses. I can even eat three pancakes for dinner, put the rest in the fridge, and eat three more later. They’re a great snack when made in a reasonable size, and it is much easier for me to enjoy their fluffy goodness that way.

That’s right, I just dropped a breakfast metaphor on you.

Joanna Newsom is like pancakes in that she is best appreciated in smaller doses. When listening to Have One On Me, I don’t feel like I’m overdosing on her voice, her verbose lyrics, her complex arrangements, or any other aspect of her music. I don’t begin listening wearily. That’s what happens when the tracks average 6:53 instead of more than 11 minutes each.

Simply put, Have One On Me has made me believe in Joanna Newsom again. Not because she’s extended the album, but because she’s learned to pare down each song. For that, I am grateful. Have One On Me is two hours long, but it’s two solid, solid hours. There are no weak points here. There is no wasted time, no extended noodling. Yes, Joanna Newsom’s new record is an investment. But I am here to tell you that it is ultimately rewarding.

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