Joanna Newsom. <i>Drag City</i>. If you find Björk staid, this is just the "freak folk" album for you.
Is Björk too normal for you? Then check out Joanna Newsom, who elevates eccentricity to a fine art on her second album. Sometimes tagged "freak folk," among other simplistic labels, the Bay Area resident really belongs to no category. Accompanying herself on harp, she delivers sprawling, hallucinatory tales in a voice that's part angry child, part nervous adult, exploring spirituality, desire, and the natural order of things in unsettling verbal torrents. Underscoring the eclectic soul of the project, Newsom's parts were recorded by punk rock vet Steve Albini, best known for sessions with Nirvana, while Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson's collaborator on his weirdest works 40 years ago, coproduced and wrote the cinematic orchestral arrangements. Ys. (pronounced "ees"), which covers a mere five tracks in just under an hour, may strike impatient listeners as unbearably pretentious. Others will be delighted by its audacity.