One of the more charming songs on Joanna Newsom's debut "Milk Eyed Mender" is a charming little harp-folk ballad, "Sprout and the Bean." This single features that song, and tacks on another little freak-folk melody that isn't quite as good, but still quite solid.
"I slept all day/awoke with distaste/and I railed/and I raved," Newsom sings in her fairy-on-acid voice, over a bed of harp strings that ripple or twang, and grow more urgent and fast-paced as the song progresses. "That the difference between/the sprout and the bean/is a golden ring/it is a twisted string..." It's all full of kings, boats, fairy tale atmospheres, and men in white coats -- time in an asylum, perhaps?
It's followed by the stranger "What We Have Known." It's a more lo-fi song, but the harp is less flamboyant and Newsom sounds like she's circling around the listener, crooning slyly in their ear. It's not as intriguing as the elusive "Sprout and the Bean," but it is fairly interesting.
Either you love Newsom, or you hate her -- her bizarro music, tripped-out childlike vocals and spare harp are all very unique. The "Sprout and the Bean" single is probably a good place to become acquainted with her style, and figure out whether you like what she turns out.
Her music is almost entirely harp, played like a quirky folk guitar, and the melodies that spill out of it are raw and unadorned. But her voice is what really makes it stand out -- she sounds like a tripping pixie, always with a note of wonder in her voice. Again, either you'll love her cracked, trippling voice for its bizarre charm, or you'll hate it because it's not typical.
The same applies to her obscure lyrics -- it's hard to tell exactly what these poetry-like lyrics are about, but Newsom brings across a sense of urgency and tragedy. ("We can't remember what was spoke/so we stare in wonder at the smoke/what it begets is born alone/we know not now what we have known...")
"Sprout and the Bean" is a good place to get acquainted with Joanna Newsom's trickling freak-folk, her harp, and her weird voice. Definitely worth hearing.