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Maija Sofia on Joanna Newsom

Maija Sofia has recently released her new album, Bath Time. The album is an album about the silencing and misrepresentation of women. In he latest in our Why I Love series, Maija Sofia proclaims her love of the American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and actress, Joanna Newsom.

Joanna Newsom

(Picture: Annabel Mehran)

One grey afternoon when I was seventeen, the boy with whom I’d been sharing a short-lived and altogether genteel romance had ended our brief dalliance via text. I was not and never have been the kind of person to take heartbreak lightly, and so after weeping uncontrollably and flinging several pairs of shoes out of my bedroom window in unbridled, irreconcilable despair, this was the first point in my life I reverted to the coping mechanism of applying myself fully and obsessively to a creative project to try and distract from my sadness. I put Joanna Newsom’s first album The Milk-Eyed Mender in my weird pink and silver plastic CD player, tuned up my rented harp and set about trying to learn every song on the album.

Maija Sofia

Naturally I failed quite spectacularly at this endeavour, Joanna Newsom is a more incredibly versatile and accomplished harpist than I could ever hope to mimic but my obsession with her music was solidified.

The Milk-Eyed Mender is an incredible album. Sonically bare, it’s comprised mostly of harp and Newsom’s strange, often grating childlike voice, but despite it’s skeletal production it was the richest, most multi-faceted record I had ever encountered.

Newsom’s harp playing is astonishing, it flickers seamlessly between sounding angry, plaintive, polyrhythmic and deceptively simple from song to song. Her melodies are unpredictable, often disconcerting they seem to weave into the songs from some place underneath, she approaches chords and harmonies from strange new and beautiful angles.

Lyrically she is in a world of her own, her songs encompass the strange archaic language of folklore, with a singular knack for rhyming that never feels hackneyed and an ability to merge poetry, narrative and literary and mythological reference without ever feeling weighty and verbose. ‘Bridges and Balloons’, the first song on the album, begins like a fairytale; “we sailed away on a winter’s day, with fates as malleable as clay”, before unspinning the song into the nursery-rhyme-like but oddly poetic aphorism that “a thimblesworth of milky moon can touch hearts larger than a thimble.”

My obsession with Joanna Newsom spans a deep love of all of her albums, from the wistful, jazz-influenced dreaminess of Have One On Me, with its gorgeously apocalyptic ‘On a Good Day’ (‘hey, hey, hey the end is near, on a good day you can see the end from here’) to the immense breadth of research on time and the passage of history that informs the songs on Divers.

It’s Ys that is the album I love most though. I’ve probably listened to it more than any other record and am yet to grow tired of it’s long, meandering, orchestral songs. The 12 minute dreamscape of ‘Emily’ still makes me swoon as it culminates in its wild refrain “the meteorite is the source of the light but the meteor’s just what we see, the meteoroid is the stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee.’

However, my favourite piece of music of all time is ‘Only Skin.’ I don’t know any songs in the world even remotely like it. Part love-song (“when I cut your hair and leave the bird all of its trimmings, I am the happiest woman among all women”), part archaic herblore, part pagan rite, it climaxes as the voice of Bill Callahan joins towards the end in a wild, rumbling harmony, chanting “all my bones they are gone, gone, gone, take my bones, I don’t need none.”

It is a song I listen to over and over and it still transports me and heals me and evokes something new in me every time, all seventeen strange minutes of it, right down to its last heartbreakingly simple couplet; “all I can do is do, my darling, right by you.”

Many thanks to Maija for taking the time to write about Joanna Newsom for us. You can listen to more of Maija Sofia’s music by following the Bandcamp link below.

Maija Sofia: Bandcamp / Facebook / Twitter

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