Y is for “YS”

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“YS” (pronounced: Ees) is Joanna Newsom’s 2006 album produced by Van Dyke Parks. Joanna’s work before then had been generally her alone with her harp, and relatively lo-fi. Van Dyke Parks added this lush orchestral element,and you hear more variety with instrumentation here, some guitar work and also some accordion (the most underappreciated instrument in the worlldddddd), and one lovely piano piece.

So why should you listen to this album with the weird Ren Faire looking cover? Well..

What really shines here is her story-telling, use of language, and ability to weave startling tempo changes in longer works -. Her lyrics are intensely emotional and use strange imagery – ““a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky had been breathing on a mirror” – from “Emily”, a song written for her astronomer sister. Her voice here is definitely a change from her earlier work – it’s still distinctive and quirky, but has lost a bit of it’s “Lisa Simpson” quality.

So why should you listen to this album with the weird Ren Faire looking cover? Well..

The title is a reference to the mythological island city of Ys, in Brittany (near France), which was destroyed in a flood due to its turn to sin. Supposedly the land itself was reclaimed by a pious king and rich in arts and commerce. His daughter, Dahut, however,  “had made a crown of her vices and taken for her pages the seven capital sins.”*

Either she destroyed the city by opening the sluices instead of the gate to allow in her lover, or like…something with orgies and possibly taking the devil as a lover? Story-tellers do not seem to be a fan of this Dahut lady. Sure she was charming, though.

Or potentially, her father escaped the city on horseback, and she fell off the back of the horse accidentally after God told him the only way for him to survive was for her to die.

Again, we’re not sure.

*Spence, Lewis (1917). Legends & Romances of Brittany, uncovered on Wikipedia’s YS article. What a beautiful arrangement of words.