Saturday, April 3, 2010

Music: The Sprout and The Bean / Joanna Newsom


One of the most distinctive and riveting features of the Melbourne tourism commercials, the ones where the young lady is pushing a giant ball of string to find her way home because of the many distractions that Melbourne offers, is the background music. The song played is called Sprout and the Bean and it is the work of Joanna Newsom. On it, singing "Shall we go outside?", she sounds like a very young girl.  Some saythat she sounds like Lisa Simpson.

You can see and hear  her perform it at:

The funny thing is, I can’t decide whether I like it or not, or whether I like her or not.  At the moment I am tending toward "not".
On the one hand, she is an unusual and original performer.

An American harpist, pianist, harpsichordist and singer-songwriter, she was born in 1982 and is most prominent in the fields of:
-   experimental: traditional music styles pushed to unforeseeable outcomes or used in different manners;
-  new folk, aka freak folk: a style of music which draws from traditional folk music and uses mainly acoustic instrumentation, but introduces elements of avant-garde music, often featuring uncommon sounds, themes, and vocal styles.

On the other hand, some of the YouTube comments at the above site are (as written):
-  i hate her music, i do. but I cant resist to listen to it.
-  She was so nervous (: it's just too beautiful, i really love how her hair looks in this video. And the way she pronounces "Should we", she almost says "shoewe".
-  i dunno. her voice kind of annoys me, but damn. she plays the PISS out of that harp
-  You'll get used to that voice, trust me.
-  Her music is classified as "experimental" I think she's broken that barrier, she's awesome!
-  her voice is.... eeeehhh...... interesting...
-  She's cute, writes good lyrics, plays nicely, voice sucks. lol
-  the first time I heard her voice I was instantly captivated with the sweetness and honesty in her amazing voice!!!!!
-  Grew on me as time went on, though.
-  you either love her, or hate her.
-  Her voice is wierd (is she four years old?? lol), but it has a quaint, innocent quality which suits the song.
-  her voice is incredibly unique. i love it, but at the same time, i don't haha.

The song Sprout and the Bean is from her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, released in 2004.

The lyrics are:
I slept all day
awoke with distaste
and I railed,
and I raved

That the difference between
the sprout and the bean
is a golden ring,
it is a twisted string.
And you can ask the counsellor;
you can ask the king;
and they'll say the same thing;
and it's a funny thing:

Should we go outside?
Should we go outside?
Should we break some bread?
Are y'interested?

And as I said,
I slept as though dead
dreaming seamless dreams of lead.

When you go away,
I am big-boned and fey
in the dust of the day,
in the dirt of the day.

and Danger! Danger! Drawing near them was a white coat,
and Danger! Danger! drawing near them was a broad boat,
And the water! water! running clear beneath a white throat,
and the hollow chatter of the talking of the Tadpoles,

who know th'outside!
Should we go outside?
Should we break some bread?
Are y'interested?
What do the lyrics mean? Beats the hell out of me but she has said that they are personal to her. Speculation ranges from a mental breakdown, a marital breakdown, being in rehab, undergoing an abortion, to going through a crisis of religious faith. Some commentators speculate that it is a combination of a number of the above: an unmarried woman who has to have an abortion for religious reasons.

Some general comments by her in an interview in 2005:

You’ve gotten a lot of acclaim from the hard-bitten indie-rock world. Does that seem odd?
Well, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one kind of success from another. But I feel like some people have listened to my record in ways that I would prefer they not.

How do you mean?
Oh, there are people who are attracted to what they see as something that’s entirely sweet or childlike or innocent. That’s not my music, if anyone’s listening. My voice gets compared to a child’s, and I don’t think it’s childlike at all. The so-called positive press has in some ways been more difficult to swallow than the negative.

All this talk about a “neo-folk” movement and your being at the head of it—does it mean anything to you?
I don’t place myself within any sort of a scene. I actually don’t think of myself as a folksinger. I’d call myself something else, but I can’t think of an alternative


We have in the past gone past the voice and looked at the quality of the performer and the works - Dylan, Kate Bush – but for some reason the public persona of Joanna Newsom remains as “the woman with the irritating, annoying kid’s voice”. As I said earlier, I like the uniqueness and originality but can’t decide if I like it or not.

I would be interested to receive your opinions.


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